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History and Development

Petrochemicals industry and the products it makes play an enormous role in our daily lives. Imagine life without gasoline, cosmetics, fertilizers, detergents, synthetic fabrics, asphalt, and plastics. All of these products—and many more—are made from petrochemicals—chemicals derived from petroleum or natural gas. Crude oil, or petroleum fresh out of the ground, has been used sporadically throughout history. Many hundreds of years ago, Native Americans used crude oil for fuel and medicine. But the start of the oil industry as it is known today can be traced back to 1859. In that year, retired railroad conductor Edwin L. Drake drilled a well near Titusville, Pennsylvania. The well, powered by an old steam engine, soon produced oil and sparked an oil boom. By the 1860s, wooden derricks covered the hills of western Pennsylvania. In 1865, the first successful oil pipeline was built from an oil field near Titusville to a railroad station five miles away. From there, railcars transported oil to refineries on the Atlantic coast. The business of refining oil was largely the domain of John D. Rockefeller. The New York–born industrialist financed his first refinery in 1862. He then went on to buy out competitors, and, along with his brother, William, and several associates, he created Standard Oil Company. By 1878, Rockefeller controlled 90 percent of the oil refineries in the United States. Drilling for oil quickly spread beyond Pennsylvania. By 1900, Texas, California, and Oklahoma had taken the lead in oil production, and eleven other states had active oil deposits. Annual U.S. oil production climbed from two thousand barrels in 1859 to 64 million barrels in 1900. Other countries were also getting into the oil business. Russia was producing slightly more than the United States around the beginning of the twentieth century. Smaller producers included Italy, Canada, Poland, Peru, Venezuela, Mexico, and Argentina.

was formed by the partial combustion of natural gas in air. The history of petrochemical products actually dates back to ancient Egypt. The modern petrochemical industry . vast amounts of oil were produced and made into fuels and lubricants. a fuel for heating and cooking. Products we know today as ethylene an polyethylene were made the ancient Egyptians. Prospectors struck oil in Iraq in 1927 and in Saudi Arabia in 1938.The first major oil discovery in the Middle East occurred in Iran in 1908. annual crude oil production surpassed a billion barrels. that ethylene was produced organically in the plant. and other key military supplies. In 1925. called Conversion. and automobiles came on the scene. joined the industry. But all of that changed around 1900 when electric lights began to replace kerosene lamps. Many chemical companies. Rockefeller and other refinery owners considered gasoline a useless by product of the distillation process. including Dow and Monsanto. After the war. was the primary product of the petroleum industry in the 1800s. Widespread production of petrochemicals grew out of efforts to recover and use the chemical by-products of the cracking process. New petroleum fuels were also needed to power the ships and airplanes used in World War I. American oil refineries also manufactured synthetic rubber. Cracking was introduced into crude oil refineries in 1913. medicinal oils. an increasing number of farmers began to operate tractors and other equipment powered by oil. carbon black. The Petrochemical Industry Kerosene. During World War II. toluene (an ingredient in TNT). The United States supplied more than 80 percent of the aviation gasoline used by the Allies during the war. In 1872 the first chemical to be made from petroleum. ("Cracking" is the second state in the refinery process. where the molecules are re-arranged). The growing demand for petrochemicals and the availability of petroleum and natural gas caused the industry to quickly expand in the 1920s and 1930s. Carbon black is used primarily in the production of synthetic rubber.

Many believe that an estimated 77 percent of the world's total recoverable oil has already been discovered. though the major growth in new production capacity is in the Middle East and Asia. are chemicals obtained from the cracking of petroleum feedstock. and of aromatic raw materials 70 million tons. Petrochemicals. propylene. Most experts give Saudi Arabia credit for having the largest original oil endowment of any country. The industry is built on small number of basic commodity chemicals. toluene and xylene. the remaining 23 percent. If so. and the Middle East as a whole is believed to have about 41 percent of the world's total oil reserve. Most of Western Europe's oil lies below the North Sea. is a by-product of refinery cracking for gasoline. Propylene. butadiene. North America is a distant second. Eastern Europe is also well endowed with oil.started in 1920 with the opening of the Standard Oil Company plant in New Jersey. benzene. petroleum is the major source. Petrochemicals are chemical products made from raw materials of petroleum or other hydrocarbon origin. Petrochemicals are used in many manufacturing fields. Because of the large deposits in Russia. World production of ethylene is around 110 million tons per year. The Geography of Petrochemicals By the last decade of the twentieth century. There is a substantial inter-regional trade in petrochemicals of all kinds. Although some of the chemical compounds that originate from petroleum may also be derived from coal and natural gas. there were almost a million oil wells in more than one hundred countries producing more than 20 billion barrels per year. the original petrochemical feedstock. of propylene 65 million tons. . mostly located in smaller fields or in more difficult environments. as the name suggests. also known as building blocks such as ethylene. The largest petrochemical industries are to be found in the USA and Western Europe. may be more expensive to find and to recover.

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