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First Commercial Oil Well in North America

Oil wellThe 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 Titusville, Pennsylvania.

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.

 

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