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Oil Panorama - Expo Paris 1889

Oil Panorama at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1889

Petroleum is today the object of a very important trade, and the history of its exploitation and applications, which is represented in a panoramic pavilion erected on the bank at the level of the Pont d'Iéna, attracted the attention of the visitors, who were able to initiate themselves into the various operations of this industry by admiring the panoramic views painted by M. Poilpot, and by reviewing the maps, drawings, and photographs exhibited there, as well as all the applications of petroleum to lighting, heating, and motive power, which were grouped in a pavilion annexed to the panorama.

The origin of petroleum is far from being completely elucidated, and the various hypotheses that have been put forward on this subject are not free from objection. Some think that the formation of petroleum within the earth is due to a process analogous to the distillation of coal and oil shales; others have supposed that petroleum comes from the decomposition of marine plants and animals; finally Mendolejeff has put forward the opinion that petroleum is formed by the action of water on certain mineral substances. In any case, petroleum is distributed very irregularly over the globe, and is found in its various deposits at very different geological levels, while almost always being associated, in these layers, in a more or less close manner, with mineral fuels.

The main deposits are in the United States, the Caucasus, Galicia and Romania. Oil has also been found at Coolbrookdale in England, at Gabian in Languedoc, at Neuchâtel in Switzerland, in several Italian localities and in various other parts of Europe.

The exploitation of oil sources, which for a long time was unique to the United States, hardly began there until 1855, and it was first concentrated in Oil-City, 960 kilometres from New York. In this region, the richness of the springs and the ease of exploitation are such that some springs have yielded as much as 10 million francs for a simple expenditure of about ten thousand francs.

The production of petroleum in America is, moreover, increasing every year in an extraordinary manner, and the number of wells drilled by means of which crude oil is extracted from the depths of the earth, is now about 25,000.

In Pennsylvania the production, which in 1862 was only 3,600,000 hectolitres, already a respectable figure, now exceeds 15 million hectolitres.

One of the panoramic views of the oil exhibition shows one of the Pennsylvania operations, the one in the new Washington district.

The other view in Mr Poilpot's panorama shows the Balakhané plateau, near Baku, on the Apsheron peninsula on the Caspian Sea.

Extraction is also carried out there by means of artesian wells, which are very close to each other. These wells yield very large quantities of naphtha, which reaches the surface of the ground in the form of a thick, brownish liquid with green tints.

Again, sometimes the liquid is extracted by the pump, sometimes it gushes out at a variable height; sprays of oil up to 90 metres have been measured.

During the drilling of the shaft, the miners are warned by a deafening noise of the eruption that is about to occur, and they then hasten to close the orifice with a kalpak, a kind of iron cap fitted with a tap. Once the kalpak is in place, the flow of liquid is controlled and can be regulated at will. But it happens quite often that the oil gushes out so violently that the kalpak must be abandoned and the gushing spring allowed to flow freely until the eruption is over; the oil rain is collected in the canals which cover the ground all around and which bring the liquid into large pits, from where it is then raised into the tanks by means of machines.

In addition to the extraction and refining processes, the exhibition of Mr. Deutsch gives visitors interesting information about the transport of oil. Since the oil trade has grown enormously, it is no longer transported only in barrels, as it was in the early days of the industry, but also in tanks on board special ships, which now form a considerable fleet.

We shall not enumerate all the applications of petroleum, relating to heating and lighting, the use of which is today so widespread, and which visitors recognise in their most perfect forms as they pass through the annexed gallery of the petroleum exhibition; the multiple advantages of petroleum from the economic point of view, especially in domestic uses, are no longer to be demonstrated.

In the struggle we are witnessing today between the different modes of lighting, we can already foresee the triumphant reign of electric light, generalized to the most modest interiors, and lighting, so to speak, the entire surface of the globe.

But if petroleum, as a form of lighting, cannot have great ambition, the same cannot be said of its role as a fuel, and in this respect it is reasonable to think that petroleum is destined to play a considerable part in the industry of the future, together with coal.

© L'Exposition Universelle de 1889 - Louis Rousselet - 1890