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Alberta Online Encyclopedia
Canadian Petroleum Heritage
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Discoveries of oil and natural gas became more common in the 18th and 19th centuries as people dug deeper wells in search of water. "Rock oil" or petroleum (from the Latin roots petra for rock, and oleum for oil) was once a popular patent medicine in Canada and the U.S.

Although natural gas was gaining popularity, it was coal gas that provided the "gas lights" in 19th century cities in some parts of Europe and North America. Coal was heated in a closed vessel to produce a mixture of hydrogen, carbon monoxide and methane. Coal gas first lit the streets of London, England, in 1807, Montreal in 1836, and Toronto in 1841.

People tapped safer, cleaner-burning natural gas for the same purpose as early as 1821 when it was piped through hollow logs to Fredonia, New York—"the best lit city in the world." However, natural gas was not widely used until the end of the 19th century when better drilling techniques and cast iron pipes were developed.

First carload of crude oil shipped from WainwrightThe demand for improved lighting also led directly to the first widespread use of crude oil. The need was urgent. By the 1850s, the best available lamp oil, obtained from whale blubber, was selling for $2.50 U.S. per gallon, or 66 cents per litre—a lot of money in those days. Growing demand for this oil decimated whale populations, putting some species at risk of extinction.

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