The first drilling oil wells in
the world were drilled in China in 347 A.D. They
probably pounded the oil seeps with rocks hung from
“rigs” to break up the ground similar to cable tool
rigs. They were also used to drill for fresh water.
The Chinese used crude oil as light but it was too
flammable. They found that heating salt brine with oil would evaporate the brine and produce salt;
salt was highly valued highly over oil. By the 10th
century A.D., bamboo pipelines were used to connect
oil wells with salt springs.
There is a debate of who had the
first drilling of a commercial oil well in the
modern era. In 1848, the first modern oil well was
drilled by Russian engineer, F.N.
Semyenovon, in Asia on the Aspheron Peninsula,
north-east of Baku. The first oil wells in Europe
were drilled in Poland by Ignacy Lukasiewicz
in 1854, and the wells were thirty to fifty metres
deep. By 1858, the first oil well in North
America was drilled in Ontario. The Americans joined
in 1859 when their first oil well was drilled by
Colonel Edwin Drake at sixty-nine feet deep at
All of these wells were drilled
by steam-powered cable-tool rigs that pounded the
earth with fishtail bits. The drilling technology
was not advanced by today’s standards, but it worked
well on the shallow prospects. However, greater
drilling challenges occurred when the oil lay
encased in deeper pay zones. Drilling targets could
not be reached using standard cable-tool methods.
Instead, rotary rigs were brought in to drill. These
rigs represented the latest technology, and became
the preferred method for drilling.