Energy Economists Rock Oil Tour
2009 “Rock Oil Tour” to Titusville, Pennsylvania
Titusville or Bust! Below are notes from a fun and educational August 21-22, 2009, ”Rock Oil 2009 Tour” — courtesy of members of the National Capital Area Chapter of the U.S. Association for Energy Economics.
“Adam Sieminski, the originator of the Rock Oil Tour, developed the following release about the tour,” notes Mark Lively, NCAC treasurer, and chief organizer of a popular monthly luncheon for NCAC members, students and guests. Adam, chief energy economist at Deutsche Bank, invited the historical society to participate in the Rock Oil Tour.
“Titusville or Bust” – by Adam Sieminsiki
Nearly 50 oil history buffs set off for an education-packed bus ride from Washington, D.C., early on August 21, heading for Oil City and Titusville, Pennsylvania, the birthplace of the modern oil era exactly 150 years ago on August 27, 1859.
The Rock Oil Tour two-day excursion was hosted by the National Capital Area Chapter of the U.S. Association for Energy Economics.
“There are a quite a few members in our chapter with a passion for energy history and our industrial heritage” said Adam Sieminski, Deutsche Bank energy analyst, who helped organize the trip along with Michelle McCaughey from the American Petroleum Institute (API), John Jennrich, from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, who volunteered to be the official photographer, and NCAC treasurer Mark Lively, at Utility Economic Engineers.
The six-hour trip from Washington to the Pennsylvania oil region was enlivened by a series of videos presented by Bruce Wells, executive director of the American Oil and Gas Historical Society, covering the early days of oil development in Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and Texas. The group learned how whale oil and coal oil gave way to rock oil as Col. Edwin Drake made drilling for oil practical by coming up with the innovation of casing his cable-tool drilled well with iron pipe.
John Felmy from API gave a short lecture on one of the next big technical breakthroughs, the Tidewater Pipeline, built in 1878-79 from the Bradford field to Williamsport, Pennsylvania. This was the first true long-distance pipeline (six-inches in diameter, 109 miles) that eventually helped open up the East Coast markets for safer and less expensive energy for lighting.
After the lunch stop, our crew was kept fully alert as they tried to complete the “Oil Industry Folklore Quiz” handed out Branko Terzic and concentrated on a rousing testimonial to the medicinal value of petroleum products from Sarah McKinley. Upon arrival in Oil City, the group was welcomed by the staff of the Venango Museum, dedicated to the preservation and conservation of the oil region’s industrial legacy and rich cultural history, including its beautiful beaux arts building.
That evening, Wells outlined the efforts underway at the AOGHS to encourage the preservation of the history of U.S. oil and natural gas exploration and production. The Society provides advocacy for museums and other organizations across the entire United States that work to preserve that rapidly disappearing early history through exhibitions, material preservation and educational programming.
On Saturday morning, Marilyn Black, of the Oil Region Alliance, joined the tour to provide a running commentary as the group explored the Oil Creek Valley. First stop was the McClintock Well No. 1, spudded in 1861 and believed to be the oldest well in continuous production in the world. These days, the well is only pumped a few times a year, produces more brine than crude, but supplies enough for souvenir bottles sold at the celebrated Drake Well Museum.
After visiting the impressive memorial to Drake that was erected in Woodlawn Cemetery by his friends, the group saw the Titusville homes of John Mather, a famous oil region photographer who recorded the early days of the oil boom in Pennsylvania, and Ida Tarbell, a journalist, writer and social reformer known for her articles against big business and often credited with starting the movement that ultimately caused the dissolution of the Standard Oil Trust.
At the Drake Well Museum, Susan Beates, a curator and historian, led a tour of the grounds and buildings. The museum tells the story of the beginning of the modern oil industry with operating oil field machinery and historic buildings in a beautiful park setting. Standing in the historically accurate replica of Drake’s first well was a highlight of the trip.
“We ended our tour to the area with a talk by regional experts at the oil ghost town of Pithole,” said Sieminski. Pithole went from woods, to a town of 15,000 people and back to woods again in the space of about two years in the mid-1860s, according the exhibits at the Pithole Visitors Center.
“It was a perfect reminder of the boom-and-bust, precarious and often controversial nature of the oil business,” Sieminski noted.
Joe Dukert and Larry Spancake made the front cover of Oil City’s newspaper on Saturday morning- in a feature article on the NCAC tour. Sara Banzakwas widely praised for coming up with the “Rock Oil Tour 2009″ baseball cap that served as our admission ticket at all the stops. Adam claims to have been particularly impressed with an early description that turned up of our beloved first President, George Washington, as one of the nation’s early ‘oil speculators’ who bought land in what is now West Virginia because it was known to have oil seeps.
Mark Lively couldn’t get over the fact that the gasoline component of petroleum was initially considered to be a waste product dumped into Oil Creek, because early refiners only wanted the kerosene cut. John’s photos from the trip will be posted on the web soon, and in the meantime we have a great video from Kevin Book who says he is still sorting through the voluminous video footage he shot – but he has already loaded a short clip on hydraulic fracturing in its early days that made an explosive impression on him.
The overwhelming consensus opinion on the trip was that the camaraderie and educational value were exceptional, and many suggestions were made for a follow-up trip, including these possibilities: underground coal mine; LNG import facility; nuclear power plant, solar manufacturing factory, oil refinery. Brankosaid he will come up with an appropriate quiz for any eventuality!
Editor’s Note – In addition to being part of this great group of oil patch enthusiasts, a few weeks later I was fortunate to be among the speakers at the 36th annual institute of the National Association of Division Order Analysts in Washington, DC. I also participated in Titusville’s 150th oil discovery anniversary (riding in a parade) and was interviewed by Cleanskies.tv — now EnergyNow – where I described the significance of America’s first oil discovery.
Please support the American Oil & Gas Historical Society with a donation.