oil prices up


This well, drilled in 1859
near Titusville, Penn.,
was the first commercial
oil well in the United States.

Courtesy United States Department of Energy.


A crude story

Pinch at the pump
Cloaked in wood, the first oil well and its promoters stands triumphant with its promoters in foreground. POSTED 2 DEC 1999 Gassed up lately? Then you know the news. Iraq has suspended exports. The price of crude oil has passed through a historic valley to reach a nine-year high. Gasoline prices have rebounded as well. Things are looking up for oil producers, who have struggled for a century to keep prices in line with production and make a buck from the expensive process of finding and producing oil.

Crude, which was down to $10.72 per barrel last December, soared past $27 in November. (Another milestone: the restoration, through gigantic mergers, of Exxon and Mobil, essential elements of the old Standard Oil monopoly, which was dismembered by court order in 1911.)

Time was, oil fields were located by looking for "seeps," places where oil oozed naturally from the ground. The first commercial field, around Oil City, Pennsylvania, was found this way, as were major finds in Borneo, the Persian Gulf and elsewhere.

But seeps are getting rare these days, and the technique is useless under water, where lots of oil is being pumped.

Before we get to some brainstorms for finding oil cheaper and faster, where does oil come from anyway?

The Why Files There are 1 2 3 4 5 pages in this feature.
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