Happy 150th Birthday to Oil

2248951114_585a6f20d8.jpgExactly 150 years ago oil was drilled out of the ground for the first time in Titusville, Pennsylvania. In honor of the energetic hydrocarbon, here's a birthday song called "Gas Gas" by the Croation bombshell Severina. (Lyrics are here but I've heard there is some resonance between the smell  of gas and hormones, which seems credible given the video.) Considering the piles of money the government is spending on a "green economy" to "leave oil behind" it's worth taking a look at just how long it took to really get the oil party started, and take bets on the time line for its greenish offspring.

After the discovery at Drake's Well, oil was mostly used for lubrication and lighting. What we think of as the automobile age actually took a long time to get started:

26 years to invent an internal combustion engine and a gas pump (1885) (Timeline is here.)
41 years until there were 14, 800 autos registered in the US and the first really huge oil well (Texas's Spindletop) came roaring out of the ground with a higher daily production than all US oil wells combined. (1901)
49 years until the first Model T. (1908)
54 years before you could drive your internal combustion engine into the first gas station. (1913)
61 years until there were 8.5 million cars registered in the US. (1920)

The business and regulatory model seems to have developed a little bit faster.

11 years for Rockefeller to devise a business model that disciplined the cycles of boom and bust into a monopoly. (1870) 
42 years before Ida Tarbell began exposing the model in McClure's magazine (1902), leading to the ultimate break up of Standard Oil into 37 companies 50 years after the discovery. (1909)

Now taking bets:
How long to until there are a million non-gasoline cars on the road?
How long until we've cut oil consumption by 33 percent?
How long until a radical, scandalous post-oil business model emerges?
How long until we regulate it?


(Photo: Flickr User sara.atkins)
Thanks to Branko Terzic for "Gas Gas" and translation.

Presented by

Lisa Margonelli is a writer on energy and environment. She spent four years and traveled 100,000 miles to write her book, "Oil On the Brain: Petroleum's Long Strange Trip to Your Tank." More

Lisa Margonelli directs the New America Foundation's Energy Productivity Initiative, which works to promote energy efficiency as a way of ensuring energy security, greenhouse gas emissions reductions, and economic security for American families. She spent roughly four years and traveled 100,000 miles to report her book about the oil supply chain, Oil On the Brain: Petroleum's Long Strange Trip to Your Tank, which the American Library Association named one of the 25 Notable Books of 2007. She spent her childhood in Maine where, during the energy crisis of the 1970s, her family heated the house with wood hauled by a horse. Later, fortunately, they got a tractor. The experience instilled a strong appreciation for the convenience of fossil fuels.

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