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Viktor Katona

Viktor Katona

Viktor Katona is an Group Physical Trader at MOL Group and Expert at the Russian International Affairs Council, currently based in Budapest. Disclaimer: views set…

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44 Things You Didn’t Know About Oil


Whenever you see a headline like this, you know it will go along the lines of “did you know that petroleum stands for rock oil?” Yes you did, goes the reply of an overwhelming majority of readers. For this reason, the list below is one which holds the reader in high esteem, as a dear colleague on the road to broaden our knowledge of the oil industry. So here we go…

1.) Oil’s first use was for caulking – ruins from early Antiquity (5-6 000 BC) testify that Euphrates and Indus Valley civilizations built their houses with bitumen. Caulking their ships with bitumen logically followed soon afterwards.

2.) Both Tamerlane and Nadir Shah used camels laden with petroleum casks to frighten off Indian war elephants – once set on fire, the sight of fire made the elephants flee in panic.

3.) A first in Europe, oil exported from Venezuela in 1539 was used to treat the gout of Emperor Charles V.

4.) People of the Caspian Basin used oil to cure their camels’ mange.

5.) Drilling was invented by the Chinese, using the cable tool percussion method, presumably during the 2nd millennium BC.

6.) The Chinese know-how of drilling found its way to Europe thanks to the Catholic missionary Father Imbert, whose 1828 description of salt drilling methods paved the way for the development of oil drilling as we know it now.

7.) In Medieval times, Caspian oil was transported in sealskin bags. (The Caspian seal was substantially more common back then, now it is an endangered species mostly due to radical habitat shrinking.) In other adjacent regions, sheepskin bags were used.

8.) The Giza pyramids were glued together with bitumen.

9.) Up until the early 20th century, oil was considered to be an excellent cure for diphtheria.

10.) Oddly enough, up to the First World War, airplane fuel was blended with castor oil, irritating pilots to the point of constant diarrhea.

11.) The first-ever oil tanker, Zoroaster, was sunk alongside six other ships near the Azerbaijani coast to create a platform for a new offshore field.

12.) Titusville, the birthplace of the U.S. oil industry, gave rise to a plethora of other products, too. Robert Chesebrough came here to look into how petroleum could be used and came up with the idea of producing the petroleum jelly, Vaseline.

13.) Chesebrough ate a spoonful of Vaseline every single day and lived until he was 96 years old.

14.) The first oil war was the Chaco War (1932-1935), which pitted Paraguay, supported by Royal Dutch Shell, against Bolivia, supported by Standard Oil. In the end, most of the Chaco region went to Paraguay.

15.) The average speed at which oil is transported through pipelines is about 5-10 km per hour (roughly 3-6mph).

16.) Crude pipeline transportation was first proposed by the famous Russian scientist, Dmitry Mendeleev. He argued that burning oil in furnaces in the vicinity of producing fields is ineffective, instead oilmen should transport it to main centers of consumption, refine and use it there.

17.) Mendeleev was also the first Russian scientist to take a proper look at the quality parameters of Russian (now Azerbaijani) crude. He established that Russian crude is heavier than light American crude, leaving substantially more residue. Related: U.S. Sets New Monthly Oil Production Record

18.) In most European languages, crude oil is either a derivative of the Greek “petroleum” (meaning rock oil) or of the Persian “naphtha”. The only exception are a few Western Slavic nations, namely the Poles, Czechs and Slovaks, that call crude “ropa”, meaning “rot”.

19.) Even the Chinese, not cognizant of European onomastics traditions, named petroleum in the 5th century BC shi you (“rock oil”).

20.) The Kumzhinskaya field in Russia burned for 7 years, from 1980 and 1987, after a drilling rig caught fire. The authorities even exploded a nuclear bomb at a depth of 1.5km in an attempt to stop the fire, but the fire still burned.

21.) The world’s northernmost oil field is the Russian offshore Pobeda field (N74’44’’).

22.) The oldest functioning refinery is located in Digboi, India (capacity of 0.65 million tons per year) which first came online in 1901. It is likely the world’s smallest refinery.

23.) The 1988 Piper Alpha explosion in the North Sea is the most deadly oil sector accident ever, leaving 167 dead.

24.) The Deepwater Horizon catastrophe killed more than 8 000 birds and harmed another 75 000.

25.) Only two ladies have so far held the highest post in national oil companies all around the world – Graça Foster (Petrobras) and Isabel dos Santos (Sonangol).

26.) If one is to omit political appointees (Isabel dos Santos was appointed head of Sonangol by her father, José Eduardo dos Santos, who ruled Angola for 38 years), Graça Foster remains the only “merit-based” female CEO of any major oil company.

27.) The father of American geophysics, Everett Lee DeGolyer started working for the U.S. Geological Survey as a cook.

28.) Arguably the lightest constant-quality oil grade is Algerian condensate, with an API density of 71°.

29.) The world’s heaviest oil is found in Athabasca, Canada, with a standard API density of 8°.

30.) The longest-producing oil well is the McClintock Well #1 in Titusville, Pennsylvania, which has been producing crude since 1861.

31.) The world’s largest oil company is Russian (Rosneft), and so is the largest gas company (Gazprom).

32.) Rosneft’s and Gazprom’s CEOs, Igor Sechin and Alexey Miller, worked together from 1991 to 1996 in the Foreign Affairs Committee of Saint Petersburg under the guidance of Vladimir Putin.

33.) In Venezuela, the cost of a 0.33l (12 fl oz) beer can is equivalent to 30-35 liters of gasoline.

34.) As of late February, Iceland has the highest gasoline prices in the world, yet a liter of gasoline still costs less than a bottle of water.


35.) The largest oil platform is found at the Norwegian offshore field Troll, towering at 472m above sea level.

36.) The world’s longest well was drilled in November 2017 at the Sakhalin-I, reaching a depth of 15,000 meters.

37.) Were the oil rush to have started several decades later than the 1860s, we might have never witnessed a sperm whale in the 20th century – sperm whale oil was the essential source for producing kerosene, and as a result they were almost hunted down to extinction.

38.) The idea of nationalizing one’s oil sector was first carried out by the Soviets in 1918 – it took almost 20 years until another country, Bolivia, nationalized its oil industry in 1937.

39.) It took the Soviets more than forty years to market their rapidly increasing oil volumes in Europe – the first supply contracts were signed with West Germany and Italy in 1960, to intense American dissatisfaction. Related: Oil Profits Are Fueling South Sudan’s Civil War

40.) It is very rarely stressed how socially mobile the oil industry has been since its inception – John D. Rockefeller’s father was a con artist, indicted for rape in 1849, whilst Ivan Gubkin, the founding father of Russian/Soviet petroleum geology, was the only literate child (out of 5) of a Volga burlak.

41.) Offshore oil production makes up roughly 30% of total world output – despite heavy volatility this ratio has barely changed in the past decade.

42.) Iraq is the most dependent country with regard to oil as a percentage of its exports (99%), whilst in terms of general GDP, it is Kuwait that is most dependent on the oil industry (55% of its GDP comes from oil).

43.) The first commercial oil discovery in Africa took place in 1955 (the Benfica field in Angola), roughly a 100 years after the United States and the Russian Empire started producing oil.

44.) The current oil price record was set in 2012 when annual Brent prices reached $111.63 per barrel.

How many of those had you heard before?

Disclaimer: views set out in this article are solely those of the author in his private capacity.

By Viktor Katona for Oilprice.com

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Leave a comment
  • Varian on March 08 2018 said:
    Karen Agustiawan also had been a CEO of Indonesia's National Oil and Gas Company (Pertamina) during 2009-2014. So there should be 3 of them, not 2.
  • Frank on March 08 2018 said:
    Superb list, but you left off the two biggest ones. The first being oil’s false scarcity. Much like the mining of diamonds, which is heavily controlled by the De Beers cartel, oil too, is controlled by the OPEC cartel to manage production and artificially regulate pricing. The second is the misnomer fossil fuel, which is used wildly as a propaganda tool, and tied to the “false scarcity” narrative. Petroleum is a collective term for hydrocarbons, whether solid, liquid or gaseous (http://oils.gpa.unep.org/). Hydrocarbons are prevalent throughout our solar system, which includes other planets; Saturn’s moon Titan is covered in lakes of the hydrocarbon methane.
  • Arto Hiltunen on March 18 2018 said:

    Actually Sovet Union started selling oil to Finland in the beginning of 1950s, long before the agreements with BRD and Italy.

Leave a comment

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