I don't want to be critical of coal mining, especially not where Mike Stearns can hear me. But the fact remains that coal has some serious disadvantages, both as a fossil fuel and as a source of organic chemicals.
Extracting coal is labor-intensive; you have to dig shafts and tunnels, keep the works from flooding, and provide ventilation. It is also dangerous: the roof can collapse; methane gas in the mine can explode; and breathing of coal dust leads to "black lung." Once the coal is on the surface, it must be transported by trains or vessels.
If the coal has a high sulfur content, then the sulfur must be removed. Otherwise, burning the coal will result in the emission of sulfur oxides, and the formation of acid rain.
To obtain chemicals from coal, the coal is cooked and fractionated. This is a batch process; the coal is loaded into iron vessels with small vents. Hydrocarbon gases escape from the openings; the solid material which remains is coke. When the gases are cooled, some of the hydrocarbon will precipitate as coal tar. The remainder is subjected to fractional distillation and other processes, yielding ammonia, light oils, and "coal gas." You get only eight to ten gallons of coal tar from one ton of coal.
Because of the difficulties in handling solid coal, chemical engineers have developed techniques for converting it into a gas or liquid. Of course, these increase production costs.
Hence, this essay will examine the extent to which the United States of Europe (USE) might be able to exploit natural gas and petroleum.
Natural gas is mostly methane, with small amounts of ethane, propane, butane, isobutane and pentanes. These are all small linear hydrocarbons, and they are useful in the chemical industry. Still, I expect that the principal use of natural gas (especially the propane fraction) in the USE will be to keep gas-guzzling twentieth-century vehicles running.
We will want to obtain our aromatic hydrocarbons, such as benzene, from either coal or petroleum. Benzene is a trace ingredient (only about 0.06 - 0.29%) of coal tar, itself a minor product (in a quantitative sense) of coke production. Until World War II, benzene was nonetheless obtained from coal tar; afterward, to feed the growing plastics industry, it was produced from petroleum. Petroleum typically is around 3% benzene. Plainly, petroleum is the richer source.
What are the other advantages of petroleum? When you drill for it, there is no need to send anyone underground. Once the drill reaches the oil reservoir, the oil is driven to the surface by the action of an overlying "gas cap," gases dissolved in the oil, underlying water, or, on rare occasions, gravity. Indeed, in some cases, the escape is overly vigorous; the oil gushes out and the well must be brought under control so that it is not wasted.
Transportation costs are much less than they would be with coal, at least once oil pipelines can be constructed and protected. Finally, since oil is a fluid, it is easier to refine into its component hydrocarbons. For example, the refining can be conducted as a continuous process. (Natural gas has similar advantages over coal, at least if you can carry it in pipelines.)
Fictional Grantville is based on historical Mannington, West Virginia, with one very important exception: it does not have Mannington's oil wells, or any of its drilling rigs. (It is unclear whether the oil wells just ran dry or never existed. If they merely ran dry, then there might be pumping equipment, casing and pipeline available for salvage.)
Fortunately, Mannington's natural gas wells have been bequeathed to Grantville, and we know that they are still productive. In 1633, Chapter 34, Mike says, "we're getting a fair amount of oil now from the gas wells right here in Grantville, too, since we upgraded them." And in Loren Jones' "Anna's Story," from Grantville Gazette Number One, we are told, "like many of his neighbors, George ran his stove, water heater, dryer and furnace on gas from under his own land. The wellhead and compressor were out in the barn."
The Grantville (Mannington) public library owns a number of possibly useful accounts of the oil industry (see Appendix). There should also be some local knowledge independent of the library's resources. West Virginia has produced oil since 1859; it produced 16 million barrels in 1900. It was the leading natural gas producing state from 1906 to 1917. It is not unreasonable to suppose that pre-ROF Grantville high school students made field trips to the Oil and Gas Museum in Parkersburg, West Virginia. And perhaps they had to write research essays afterward . . . which are still in a box at the school somewhere.
Some displaced up-timers may have worked in the oil or natural gas business. We know from 1632, Chapter 8, that some residents have at least participated in the West Virginia Oil and Gas Festival; that is how they know how to build steam engines. Perhaps one of them has a copy of a vintage Oil Well Supply Company catalog; these have impressively detailed drawings of drilling equipment, parts lists, and so forth.
In 1633, Chapter 3, we are told, "downtown Grantville had some large and multi-story buildings left over from its salad days as a center of the gas and coal industry." So there might be some interesting artifacts in cellars or attics, or perhaps some resident has a little collection of souvenirs, collected when his grandpappy worked on a derrick.
Another point to keep in mind is that many of the techniques and much of the equipment used in oil and gas drilling are also used in drilling for water (or brine). According to the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources, a Mannington resident, Luther Dell Michael of Luke's Drilling, is certified to drill water wells within the state. Perhaps he has a Grantville counterpart; if not, there should be some residents with water well drilling experience and perhaps even a light drilling rig.
Also, drilling is performed in the coal mining industry: to find an underground coal seam, to start a shaft, or to vent methane out of the works. Chances are that there are UMWA members who know something about drilling, and there may even be drilling equipment.
In the ancient world, both bitumen (tar, asphalt) deposits and liquid oil seeps were observed. The tar was used as a binder (e.g., to mortar bricks together) and as a waterproofing agent (especially as caulking for ships). The liquid oil served as a medicine. Both were used as a fuel (e.g., in Persian fire worship) and as incendiary agents in warfare (notably the "Greek Fire" of Byzantium). While these ancient exploits were probably forgotten by the seventeenth-century Europeans, these are uses which I would expect to be rediscovered, time and again, whenever a curious passerby happened upon a lump of asphalt. Thus, there would be some local knowledge of petroleum wherever there were oil seeps.
Moreover, I would think that the peculiarities of petroleum, in particular the fact that it was a liquid that could catch fire, would cause it to be remarked upon to strangers, resulting in the dissemination of information about it.
According to Dr. E.N. Tiratsoo, "samples of petroleum oils were brought back to Europe by travelers from Baku, Burma and China" (Tiratsoo, 2).
Marco Polo visited the ancient Baku oil fields in 1250. He reported that "a hundred shiploads might be taken from it at one time" (James and Thorpe, 405). It was apparently used at that time both as a fuel, and as a veterinary ointment (for camels with mange).
There is also ample evidence of pre-Ring of Fire (ROF) knowledge of European oil seeps. The best known were those at Wietze (Hannover, Germany), Pechelbron (Alsace), Beziers (southern France), Agrigentum (Sicily), Modena (Po valley, Italy), and Tegernsee (southern Bavaria), and at various locations in Galicia and Romania. (HBS 2). The oil of Tegernsee was sold for medicinal purposes as "Saint Quirinus Oil" as early as 1436. The Alsatian oil was discovered in 1498, and the Galician "earth balsam" in 1506. The petroleum of Agrigentum was first mentioned by ancient Roman writers. Salsomaggiore in northern Italy had gas springs, which is why, in 1226, it adopted a salamander surrounded in flames (i.e., a fire elemental) as its municipal emblem.
There was a small-scale local trade in European oil before the Ring of Fire. Moreover, if there were a sudden increase in the demand for oil, the down-time Europeans would look further afield, and they, or their trade contacts in the Ottoman Empire, would probably be aware of the Near Eastern seepages in Baku, Ecbatana (Kirkuk), Ardericca (near Babylon), Zacynthus (Zante), and Tuttul (Hit). Spanish and English mariners visited the Trinidad pitch lake in the sixteenth century, and Joseph de la Roche d'Allion commented on the oil springs of New York in Sagards Histoire du Canada (1632). The Spanish were probably aware, by 1632, of at least some of the oil seepages of Cuba, Mexico, Bolivia and Peru. (1911EB).
We first heard of the Wietze oil field, near the town of Celle, in 1633, at Jesse Wood's press conference. The extraction and refining operation is being supervised by Quentin Underwood, the secretary of the interior and would-be oil tycoon. Most of the financing is coming from unidentified Germans. It appears that the refined oil will be transported by river, specifically, by barges towed by the steam-powered tugs Meteor and Metacomet. The field lies within the province ruled by George, the duke of Calenburg, and he is already enjoying economic fringe benefits; the Abrabanels are opening a bank branch in the provincial capital, Hannover.
The 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica notes that Hannover has oil production from Pliocene, Cretaceous, Jurassic, Triassic and Devonian rocks. The Wietze field is famous in geological circles because half the total production comes from mining rather than drilling. This implies that some of the oil is quite close to the surface. Still, that doesn't guarantee that all drilling will be successful. In 1857-1863, Professor Hanaus of Hannover bored ten wells in its vicinity, but only three showed even traces of oil (HBS 4).
This field is one of a cluster of a score of small oil fields, which mostly lie on or southwest of a line running from Bremen to Magdeburg. The largest of the lot is Nienhagen, which produced 2,200,000 barrels of oil in 1940.
However, the most prolific oil field in all of Germany is the Reitbrook field, near Hamburg, which yielded over 2,500,000 barrels the same year. There are 1,000 acres of producing field, and they lie atop a salt dome (see below). If you drill in the right place, you will find a gas sand about 300 feet down, and below it, at 700-800 feet, the oil horizon, made of fissured Upper Cretaceous chalk. (If you hit salt, you know you are out of luck.) It will probably be discovered only once geologists thoroughly map 163x Germany; in our time line, the field was discovered in 1937. (Near Reitbrook we may find two more fields, Sottorf and Meckelfeld.)
North of the mouth of the Elbe, near Meldorf, are a few more small fields. They, too, are salt dome-associated. Oil from Reitbrook or Meldorf could be transported by barge on the rivers Elbe and Saale.
Borings in a potash mine resulted in the chance discovery of oil in Thuringia, specifically, at Volkenroda near (and northeast of) Mulhausen. That is less than 60 miles from Grantville.
Also worthy of note are the Bavarian oil seepages (near Tegernsee, home of the relics of St. Quirinus), and the small oil fields near Bruchsall and Heidelberg, opposite Pechelbronn in France. (See generally Tiratsoo,126-31.) Bruchsall and Heidelberg are south of Mannheim and east of the Rhine.
Only the Wietze and Tegernsee fields, and possibly the Mannheim fields, are likely to be known to down-timers (by "known," I mean, they know of the associated seepages). The other German fields must be located by prospecting. In some instances the field of search can be narrowed down by reference to up-timer geographic texts, such as the Hammond Citation World Atlas. This shows that modern Germany has seven oil sites and five natural gas sources. Comparing this map to Tiratsoo's 1949 map of German oil fields, it appears that the atlas will guide the USE to the fields at Meldorf, Reitbrook, and Nienhagen. It also shows three fields that Tiratsoo either ignored or didn't know about. These are southwest of Bremen, west-northwest of Osnabruck, and south of Frankfurt.
Discounting the North Sea, Europe is not a major producer of oil. The most productive portion is in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, especially in Galicia and Romania.
In the seventeenth century, Galicia (now the western "spur" of Ukraine) was part of Poland. There is some question as to how welcome USE entrepreneurs will be in Galicia, as Sweden and Poland were at war as recently as 1629 (Sigismund thought he was the rightful king of Sweden.)
The main Galician oil field is Boryslaw (over the period 1855-1949, it produced 180 million barrels), followed by nearby Schodnica-Urycz (with oil reserves about one-seventh those of Boryslaw).
Perhaps sixty miles west-northwest of Boryslaw, inside modern Poland, there is the small Gorlice-Sanok area. This includes Bobrka, which has an oil history museum. According to their website, the first Polish mention of oil was by Jan Dlugosz (1415-1480). In the seventeenth century, they add, rock oil was found near Drohobycz and Krosno (west-northwest of Sanok).
Getting this Galician oil to Grantville or Stockholm would be rather arduous. Initially, the Krosno and Sanok oil would probably be transported down the San and Vistula to the Baltic Sea. The petroleum of Boryslav might need to ride the Dniester to the Black Sea, and then come around the long way through the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.
The Romanian oil, in a geographic sense, is more accessible; oil from the many fields within a forty kilometer radius of Ploiesti can be hauled to the Danube and then shipped upstream (to Vienna) or downstream to the Black Sea. Unfortunately, this is Ottoman territory, and therefore hostile to uptimers.
Cardinal Richelieu is likely to make a grab for the small Alsatian oil field at Pechelbronn, discovered in 1498. (Historically, Alsace was not absorbed by France until 1639.) The oil is found in sand lenses. Of the oil here, about 43% can be removed by mining, and another 17% by drilling (the rest is considered unrecoverable). From 1745 to 1849, twelve wells were drilled or dug, to depths of thirty-one to seventy-two meters. Average production in the late Forties was about 500,000 barrels, and total production over the last 150 years has been about 3,000,000 metric tons.
The Italian oil fields are small, and thus it is likely that the only ones which will be exploited in the near future are the ones which are known to down-timers as a result of seepages, or through pirated copies of the Hammond Atlas. The latter only shows two oil sources, one near Ragusa in Sicily and the other in the Po river valley, to the northwest of the gas seeps of Salsomaggiore. The development of these sources are best considered as possible joint venture projects with our colleagues in the Most Serene Republic.
A very large natural gas field lies close at hand, in the northwestern province (Groningen) of the United Provinces of the Netherlands, and is still under Dutch control. This territory might well be subject to protective occupation by USE military forces, if that were considered desirable. Would-be natural gas tycoons would be well advised to read the "Fuels" essay in the Grantville Public Library copy of Encyclopedia Brittanica before they set out. This reveals that the Groningen field is large (24 kilometers wide by 40 kilometers deep), but the productive formation, a Permian sandstone, is deep (pay depth is 3,440 to 3,050 meters). That means it is not a good target for neophyte drillers.
One advantage that the transplanted West Virginians have over main timeline wildcatters is that they know in advance which parts of the world to start looking in.
Standard encyclopedias will tell them about the world's major oil fields. Unfortunately, they are all outside USE territory. Some might be developed as joint ventures with the Venetians or the Dutch.
As long as the Ottoman Empire remains hostile to Grantville, it will be difficult to directly exploit any of the oil fields in the Persian Gulf states (modern Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar), in the Baku region on the west coast of the Caspian Sea, or in Libya. While some of the fields are controlled by the Persians, rather than by the Ottomans, the most direct shipping routes would still pass through the Sultan's domains.
But what we can't drill for ourselves, we can still buy. Muslims began commercial production of oil at a very early date. Baku oil was being sold as early as 885 AD, and crude oil was also produced commercially, pre-ROF, from seepages on the eastern bank of the Tigris, from the Sinai in Egypt, and from Kuzistan in Persia. (The wells were dug, not drilled.) Islamic alchemists were also able to fractionate naphtha by distillation. Hence, the USE could at least import petroleum, crude or partially refined, from the Ottoman Empire.
There are several noteworthy oil fields in Latin America, notably on Trinidad, and in Venezuela and Mexico. My initial concern was that this was within the Spanish sphere of influence. However, the island was only sparsely populated, and the natives were hostile to the Spanish. So a strong enough party of adventurers could certainly take over. In 1595, Raleigh made a surprise attack, with 100 to 200 men, and slaughtered the Spanish settlement. However, Raleigh was not interested in colonizing Trinidad himself, just in using it as a springboard for an expedition into Guyana (the fabled location of El Dorado).
Europeans first learned of Trinidad's oil in 1510, when Columbus shipped samples back to Spain. Prior to European settlement, Indians used Trinidad's asphalt to caulk dugout canoes, so Sir Walter Raleigh, who used it to repair his ships on his 1595 visit, was just copying native practice.
The Pitch Lake, now a tourist attraction, is large (95 acres), and 300 feet deep at the center. The asphalt can be broken out by picks; there is no need to drill.
Of course, there are other, less immediately accessible, sources of oil on the island. Even there, it should not be necessary to drill to great depths to obtain petroleum. In 1857, the Merrimac Company drilled a well to a depth of 280 feet, and struck oil. In 1867, Mr. Walter Darwent found oil on the Aripero estate at a depth of 160 feet. And the next year, the Trinidad Lake Petroleum Company was gratified by the discovery of oil at La Brea at a depth of 250 feet.
In 1902, a well was drilled to 1,015 feet in three months using the "Canadian Pole method of percussion drilling." It produced a small gusher (100 barrels a day).
The first big find was in 1911-12; one well yielded 10,000 barrels per day from a depth of 1,400 feet.
The Trinidadian reservoirs, when intact, have a high gas pressure. That is both good news (initial production can be high) and bad news (the well may blow wild, wasting oil and blasting casing, tools and rocks into the air). It became customary to keep an emergency crew on hand, armed with pumps, shovels and picks.
Venezuela also has a great deal of oil; in 1996 it ranked sixth worldwide in proven oil reserves. Its oil is already known to down-timers; "the first oil exported from Venezuela (in 1539) was intended as a gout treatment for the Holy Roman Emperor Charles." At Guanoco you can find the Bermudez Asphalt Lake, covering 1,100 acres with an average depth of six feet.
In what would have become the United States, were it not for the Ring of Fire, oil and natural gas can be found in the Appalachian mountains (Pennsylvania and West Virginia), in the midcontinent region (Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas), in the Rocky mountains (Colorado and Wyoming), in California, and in Alaska. (There is also oil in Alberta, Canada.)
In our own timeline, beginning in 1638, the New Sweden Company established colonies in modern Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland. It is possible that a similar venture in the 163x timeline could exploit the petroleum of Pennsylvania and West Virginia, but it is doubtful that it would be economical for them to ship it back to USE. Still, an advantage of an American expedition is that the Grantville Public Library is likely to have specific information (e.g., where and how deep to drill) only about American (especially West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio) oil fields.
Nigeria is also a major oil country (in 1995 it ranked twelfth in proven reserves). In 1632, it was not dominated by any European power, and it is convenient from a transportation standpoint; oil could be shipped by sea all the way from Nigeria to Germany. This isn't as cheap on a per mile basis as pumping it through a pipeline, but it is certainly superior to transporting it by rail from Baku or Ploiesti.
However, an expedition to Nigeria is not for the faint-hearted. The Encyclopedia Americana will tell Grantville residents (and spies) to look for oil in the Niger river delta (first discovered there in the Fifties). What they won't know, until they get there, is that the oil fields are in swampland, and that they will probably need to drill from barges.
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- The Grantville Gazette Staff