The highly appropriate topic of oil was the theme of the Stonehaven and District Probus club’s latest meeting when member David Jackson talked about the early years of the oil industry and of his own career in today’s version.
No other single industry affected 20th century civilisation more profoundly than the oil industry. Throughout the century oil was the great provider. From this single resource a whole range of advances were enabled; fuels for heating and lighting, fuels for engine power, and lubricants for moving mechanical objects. Not to mention providing essential ingredients for many other projects such as textiles and the base for perfumes.
Perhaps the man who did most to kick-start this phenomenon was former railway conductor Edwin Drake.
On August 28, 1859, having drilled 69 feet into the soil of Pennsylvania USA, Drake struck oil.
His contribution was to demonstrate that by drilling, instead of digging pits or skimming, oil could be produced in commercially viable quantities - in Drake’s case 25 barrels a day (and these were often old whisky barrels!).
Only six years later 7000 barrels were produced daily worldwide (of which 6800 came from the United States). There was no going back.
Nations would go to war and many would die over possession of, or access to, oil fields.
Many others would contribute to this revolution and Scotland’s input is best personified by Glasgow born chemist James Young. ‘Paraffin Young’, as he was affectionately known, took out a patent in 1850 on a process for distilling petroleum and paraffin from coal and shale.
Young and his partner created the world’s first truly commercial oil-works at Bathgate in 1851.
But even in the modern era the search for ‘black gold’ has had its mishaps. David described one fiasco in America where a drilling process went disastrously wrong.
Instead of hitting the target oil, the drill (sitting on a barge on a freshwater lake) broke into a salt mine underneath and drained the lake dry.
Eleven large barges disappeared into the resulting pit.
The vote of thanks was proposed by Sandy Bowman.