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January 2016 Policy Study, Number 16-1


Doom and Gloom = 0, Human Ingenuity = 10

The World Hasn't Ended Yet!


Oil Drilling 1859 “Colonel” Edwin L. Drake became the first person to successfully drill for and extract oil from the ground, something most people said was impossible.  The well was drilled in Crawford County, Pennsylvania.  “Crazy” Drake invented the “drive pipe,” which allowed him to drill through rock at an average of three feet per day.  He struck oil at about 70 feet.  The oil well produced between 20-40 barrels a day and according to lore required “all the whiskey barrels in the county” to store it.[22]  The records show that as a result of this technology Western Pennsylvania “produced half of the world’s oil until the East Texas oil boom in 1901.”  That boom wouldn’t have happened without Colonel Drake’s determination and focus.  Unfortunately, Drake did not patent his drive pipe invention, and as with many who were focused on the work, and not the reward, was financially unsuccessful.  There is a museum and statue of Drake in Titusville, Pennsylvania.


In the last 40 years, relatives of those who called Drake “crazy” have issued their own predictions about “peak oil.”  A variety of geoscientists and geologists confidently stated that “global (oil) supplies could peak in 1995,” or at least before 2010.  In 2003 geophysicist Kenneth Deffeyes was “99 percent confident” that by 2004 the end would be nigh.  Other experienced oil and gas experts such as T. Boone Pickens agreed.[23] 


Today the Titusville, Crawford County, area of Pennsylvania is enjoying another energy boom with the use of fracking technology to extract natural gas from underground.  The first fracking well was drilled in 2012 to a depth of 7,236 feet underground and another mile horizontally.[24]  This is a significant technology improvement in just over 150 years.  Colonel Drake would appreciate the dedication and results, but naysayers are still at work, opposing fracking on a variety of grounds and predicting that we will “fry” ourselves by pumping and using this oil and natural gas. 


In contrast to the naysayers, the most recent oil availability report, by Harvard University, says that global oil production will continue to rise by about 17 million barrels a day well into the 2020s.  Their data shows that even at relatively low prices per barrel ($70 versus the more recent $90-$100+ per barrel) fracking and other new technologies will result in the “largest potential addition to the world’s oil supply capacity since the 1980s.”[25]


Those working in oil and gas technology and development are not predicting “peak oil” or other sorts of world-ending disasters. They – like “Crazy” Drake – are focused on the work and leaving the incorrect predictions to others.  In the meantime, millions of people in the developing world are enjoying having the energy available to bring themselves and their countries out of poverty.




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