By this time, Seneca Oil had abandoned Drake and his pursuits, refusing to help him out financially, causing him to use his own money and when that had run out, to borrow from friends. It is estimated that his well produced between 20-40 barrels daily, using all the whiskey barrels in Titusville. In fact, Western Pennsylvania produced half of the world’s oil until the East Texas oil boom in 1901.
Unfortunately, Drake’s failure to patent his drive pipe was only one of his devastating business missteps. Drake’s former business partners took four years to pay him back for the successful discovery, and by this point he had lost his savings in the oil price crash of the early 1860s. From 1859 to 1961, the price of a barrel of oil had plunged from $20 to $0.52 (a 98% decline!) as many hungry prospectors moved in and freely made use of Drake’s innovation.
Only 2,000 barrels of oil were produced in the U.S. in 1859. Annual production grew more than thousand-fold by the end of 1861 — a year that saw American drillers extract over 2.1 million barrels of oil, mostly from Pennsylvania. This incredible year-over-year growth would not happen again in American history, although annual domestic production continued to grow well into the 20th century.
Oil production has since become one of the most important facets of the American economy. This has been reflected in Big Oil’s numerous placements on the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEXDJX:.DJI): Since 1915, oil companies have served for a cumulative 239 years as index components. Exxon Mobil Corporation (NYSE:XOM) and Chevron Corporation (NYSE:CVX) have represented Big Oil on the Dow since 1928 and 1930, respectively (though Chevron was booted from 1999 to 2008, which proved a big mistake for the Dow).
The combined revenue of the five largest oil companies operating in U.S. markets — Exxon Mobil Corporation (NYSE:XOM), Chevron Corporation (NYSE:CVX), BP plc (ADR) (NYSE:BP), Royal Dutch Shell plc (ADR) (NYSE:RDS.A), and ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP) — was equivalent to more than 10% of American GDP in 2011. Domestic oil and gas claims to have contributed $476 billion to the U.S. economy in 2010, in the form of royalties, capital investments, wages, and dividend payments — an “energy stimulus,” according to the Energy Tomorrow project of the American Petroleum Institute.
(Backup) power to the people
The world’s largest battery system was switched on in Fairbanks, Alaska on Aug. 27, 2003. The $35 million, 1,400-ton, nickel-cadmium monstrosity was built to prevent the cascading blackouts that plagued Fairbanks every other year and to forestall the constant threat of lesser blackouts in the icy town, which had no connection to an electrical grid. Built by a division of energy products specialist ABB Ltd (ADR) (NYSE:ABB) , the battery system is capable of generating 40 megawatts of power for up to seven minutes — enough to keep 12,000 homes powered while the city’s backup diesel generators are pushed into service.
The lessons learned in building Fairbanks’ battery may help future projects far exceed its scale. A Chinese battery array, completed in 2012, can power a similar number of homes for up to an hour and is estimated to have cost half a billion dollars to construct. In 2013, Japan began building a monster battery system with nearly twice the capacity of China’s, with the capacity to store 60 megawatt-hours produced by nearby solar arrays.
The article One of the Biggest Days in American Energy History originally appeared on Fool.com.
Fool contributor Alex Planes holds no financial position in any company mentioned here. Add him on Google+ or follow him on Twitter @TMFBiggles for more insight into markets, history, and technology.The Motley Fool recommends Chevron.
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