Many believe that the beginning of the crude oil industry was marked in the United States with the discovery of the Titusville well in Pennsylvania in the 1860s. In fact, there were several key oil discoveries in Azerbaijan a decade earlier.
#1 Black City
In 1846, an oil well was drilled in what is today the capital of Azerbaijan, Baku. At the time, Azerbaijan was part of the Russian Empire, and oil was actually discovered in Baku in the 1820s. Eventually, Baku acquired the moniker Black City because of its oil wealth.
To date, Azerbaijan has oil reserves estimated at some 7 billion barrels and produces over 800,000 bpd. Most of this is exported as the country’s domestic consumption is relatively minor due to its size.
#2 The start of American oil
In 1859, a man named Edwin Drake drilled the first-ever oil well in America. According to historical sources, it was also the first well that was actually drilled instead of dug out, as oil seeping up into the soil had been extracted until then.
The Oil Creek at Titusville, Pennsylvania, marked the official beginning of the American oil industry. The first well was less than 70 feet deep, and it triggered a gold rush that would eventually turn the U.S. into the world’s largest producer of oil.
#3 Oil Springs
The first results of the new gold rush—the rush for black gold—came just a few years after Drake’s Pennsylvania discovery. Four months after the discovery, another adventurous gentleman, Lyne Taliaferro Barret, began looking for oil in the eastern part of Texas in an area called Oil Springs.
As sometimes happens, the timing was not the best. Barret had not yet discovered oil when work on the well had to be stopped for reasons such as the Civil War and Texas’ secession from the Union. It resumed after the end of the Civil War, and Barret struck oil in 1866. This was the first oil well in Texas.
#4 The gusher era
If there’s one discovery that’s arguably more famous than those first two oil wells in America, that would be Spindletop: the first gusher. No more apt name has been created for one of the world’s biggest oil discoveries.
A geyser of crude oil erupted from Spindletop Hill in Texas on January 10, 1901, and the well ended up producing an amazing 100,000 barrels daily—a rate not exactly common in those days. If the Oil Springs discovery marked the start of oil in Texas, then Spindletop gave it the push that eventually made it the industry it is today.
#5 Oil in the Middle East
The first oil well in the Middle East was not, as one might expect, discovered in Saudi Arabia. That came later. Oil was first discovered in Persia, today’s Iran, thanks to a Brit, William Knox D’Arcy, who’d got a 60-year concession from the Iranian government.
D’Arcy funded the operation, which started in 1903, while the drilling was done by George Bernard Reynolds—an already prominent petroleum engineer. The Masjed Soleiman field was discovered in 1908, and it reached peak production in 1928.
Amazingly, the field still produces to this day, but 2023 is expected to be its last year. The discovery led to the creation of what we now know as BP, one of the biggest oil companies in the world. Related: Analysts See Oil Prices Rising To $90 By End-2023
#6 The rise of the desert kingdom
Three decades after the discovery of the Masjed Soleiman field, American engineers from Standard Oil struck oil in the desert peninsula known as Saudi Arabia. It was 1938, and nobody knew that a new star was being born.
The Dhahran discovery turned out to be the biggest in history up to that point, and it changed everything—not just for Saudi Arabia but for the world. From a largely nomadic people unconcerned about world affairs, the country turned into the world’s biggest oil producer and kept that crown for decades.
At the same time, the Dhahran discovery marked one more step on the Middle East’s way to becoming the world’s major oil supplier. It was followed by discoveries of oil in Iraq, Kuwait, and the UAE, some of which remain the biggest reservoirs in history to this day.
#7 The South American oil jewel
The Bolivar Coastal field was discovered in 1917 by Shell and still remains one of the largest in the world. By 1958, the field was producing more than 1.4 million barrels daily, and its reserves were estimated at 11.1 billion barrels.
The field was the first dip into the Maracaibo Basin—a huge oil reservoir largely located under Venezuela’s Lake Maracaibo. The reservoir under the lake contains a substantial part of Venezuela’s total oil reserves, which are the largest in the world.
#8 The last big ones
Most of the massive oil field discoveries in the world were made before the late 1980s. Since then, discoveries of huge fields have been negligible in terms of numbers. In fact, the only really big oil discovery in the last 30 years was the Kashagan field in the Kazakh section of the Caspian Sea. The field has a maximum production capacity of 380,000 bpd, which was hit in 2019. Its development has not been free from trouble, cost overruns, and delays, but it continues to contribute a substantial part of Kazakhstan’s oil output.
#9 Guyana and the future
Guyana’s rise to prominence as a new oil hotspot harkens back to the days of the big oil discoveries. Exxon and Hess have tapped an estimated 11 billion barrels in oil reserves in the Stabroeck block, and they still keep striking oil there.
Guyana’s current production stands at 360,000 bpd, which is double what it was less than two years ago. For 2030, production is seen topping 1.6 million barrels daily.
Oil Discoveries FAQ
What was the largest oil discovery?
The largest oil discovery to date is the Ghawar Field, located in eastern Saudi Arabia. It is estimated to hold up to 75 billion barrels of oil reserves and has been in production since 1951. However, it's worth noting that new discoveries and technological advancements could potentially surpass this in the future.
What was the first major oil discovery?
The world's first major oil discovery was made in Pennsylvania, United States, in 1859. This discovery, known as the Drake Well, produced about 25 barrels a day and introduced the world to the potential of oil as an energy source. It sparked the first oil boom in the United States and was a precursor to the global oil industry.
Who first discovered oil in the world?
The first discovery of oil in the world is difficult to attribute to a single person or culture, as oil has been known and used for various purposes for thousands of years. The ancient Sumerians, for instance, used asphalt to waterproof their boats, and oil seepages were used for medicinal purposes in ancient Egypt and China. However, the modern oil industry is considered to have originated in the mid-19th century, with the first commercial oil well being drilled by Edwin Drake in Pennsylvania, United States, in 1859.
What is the deepest oil that has been found?
The deepest oil well in the world is the Z-44 Chayvo Well, located on Sakhalin Island in Russia. It was drilled by Exxon Neftegas Limited in 2005 and has a depth of 12.376 kilometers (7.716 miles). It is known as an "extended reach" or "horizontal" well because it extends out more than 11 kilometers (6.8 miles) horizontally beneath the sea floor. The oil is located within the Sakhalin-1 project area in the Sea of Okhotsk, near the coast of Siberia.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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