When discussing the first oil wells ever drilled, the credit actually goes to the Chinese. In 347 AD, the first oil wells were drilled using a series of bamboo poles and steel drill bits. In reality, the engineering of these first oil wells largely reflected the basic idea of modern designs.
One man stepped on a wooden plank lever, like a seesaw, driving the drill bit down into the earth below. After that, a few workers pulled the drill from the hole using a large wheel. Drilling commenced like this until the desired depth was achieved.
By the 10th century, bamboo pipelines connected oil wells and salt springs together. This is because the Chinese used oil to evaporate brine and produce salt. At this time, that was basically oil’s sole purpose to the Chinese.
The modern Chinese oil industry started in 1949. Before then, China imported most of its oil (still does), but made a move by heavily investing in oil exploration and well development.
By 1959, large oil reserves were found in the Songhua-Liao basin of northeast China. Because of this, exports to Japan started to grow year over year. By 1974, 6.6 million tons of crude oil were exported, and by 1978, 13.5 million tons were exported. That’s nearly 99 million barrels of crude oil.
However, as the country started becoming more dependent on oil, demand inside its own borders exceeded domestic production. By 1993, they weren’t just using up all the oil they produced, they were also importing tons of oil from other countries–a theme they haven’t been able to shake in the past 20-30 years.
In 2006, they imported 145 million tons of crude oil, which was 47% of its total oil consumption.
While China’s domestic petroleum industry isn’t one to scoff at, and while they were the first ones to actually drill an oil well, their reserves aren’t as extensive as Saudi Arabia, Canada, or even the United States.
Featured image courtesy of Shell.com.cn