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Extreme Oil
Photo of early oilfield
The Journey The History The Science
Prehistory-1849 1850-1929 1930-1974 1975-Present
Vast Reserves, Small-Scale Use Excavation Led by the U.S. Global Oil and Environmentalism Geopolitics and the Future

The evolution of a valuable resource

The early days of oil were nearly the opposite of today in that the supply was almost infinitely greater than the demand. Formed millions of years ago, oil remained beneath the earth, largely untapped, until relatively recently. For thousands of years, humans utilized oil as a lubricant, adhesive, and many other purposes -- including for medicinal use. But through the early 19th century, large-scale production and use of oil was unknown.

Through the early 19th century, large-scale production and use of oil was unknown.
Yet this changed quickly as oil wells sprang up across the United States in the late 19th century; such discoveries were paralleled by scientific developments that found more and more uses for petroleum products in an assortment of industries. Oil refining became the keystone to the empire of Standard Oil, and gasoline-powered vehicles changed travel, warfare, and countless other aspects of 20th-century life.

Inevitably, issues related to the global oil supply -- and access to it -- have come to the fore. Oil is now a key player in the ever-overlapping realms of technology, business, and geopolitics. The future is uncertain, but one can always hope to learn from the past.

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