Facing New Frontiers – As in the Past

In thinking about the future of AAPG and the petroleum industry, it is interesting to contemplate the frontiers we currently face and those we could face in the future – but it also is worthwhile to consider the frontiers of the past.

Every milestone or significant date in our history was a major step into a frontier.

The Chinese are reported to have drilled for oil using bamboo drilling tools as early as A.D. 347. A Baku oil well was dug by hand to a depth of 35 meters in 1594. Oil from the Baku fields was exported to Persia, Central Asia, Turkey and India as early as 1647. Certainly, oil from surface seeps has been used for light and heat for thousands of years, but these were significant steps into the frontiers of exploration, production and transportation of hydrocarbons.

We think of Col. Edwin Drake’s discovery near Titusville, Pa., in 1859 as the beginning of the oil business in the United States, but the country’s first commercial oil well was drilled in southeastern Kentucky in 1818. Actually, the “Beatty Well” was not drilled for oil – it was a salt well that produced up to 100 barrels of oil per day. The U.S. oil frontier was identified in 1818; 1859 is when its exploitation began.


Frontiers are not only physical, they also are technical.

The first experiments to image the subsurface with seismic waves were conducted in 1921 at Vines Branch in south central Oklahoma. In 1931, Conrad and Marcel Schlumberger successfully identified the presence of oil in a formation by measuring its resistivity.

These clearly are two giant steps into a frontier – and both were made when a hand-held calculator was called a slide rule.

I certainly do not want to overlook the engineers. The Texas Company used the first submersible drilling barge to drill wells in Lake Pelto in south Louisiana in 1933. In 1947, Kerr McGee produced the first oil from the outer continental shelf in the Ship Shoal area off the coast of Louisiana.

The Arctic is one of the frontiers that will be explored in the relatively near future. The first step into that frontier was taken in 1968, when oil was discovered on the north slope of Alaska.

AAPG has taken a leadership position in this area through our Polar Petroleum Potential (3P) conference (Aug. 30-Sept. 2, in Halifax, Nova Scotia) and with this month’s Arctic Technology Conference, set Feb. 7-9, in Houston.


Every petroleum province was once a frontier. It took someone with a vision – and a company willing to finance that vision – to take the first step into the frontier. That sequence will be repeated multiple times in the future, as it has in the past.

Just as the present is the key to the geological past, our historical past likely holds the key to our future.

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President's Column - David G. Rensink

David G. Rensink, AAPG President (2010-11), is a consultant out of Houston. He retired from Apache Corp in 2009.

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