Environmental Engineering Reference
organisms were deposited in sea basins. Due to the lack of oxygen, they were unable
to decompose. Chemical processes of transformation eventually turned these sub-
stances into oil and gas. On the other hand, the biomass that was originally deposited
originated from the sun, which means that fossil energy sources like coal, oil and
gas are nothing more than long-term conservers of solar energy. The oldest oil
deposits are around 350 million years old. The area around the Persian Gulf where
most oil is exploited today was completely below sea level ten to fi fteen million
The oil deposits were developed much later than coal, because for a long time there
were no practical uses for the liquid energy source. Oil was used in small quantities
for thousands of years for medicinal and lighting purposes, but its high fl ammability
compared to coal and charcoal gave it the reputation of being a very dangerous fuel.
Petroleum lamps and later the invention of internal combustion engines fi nally
provided a breakthrough at the end of the 19th century.
Industrial oil production began in August 1859. While drilling at a depth of 20 m
near Titusville in the US state of Pennsylvania, the American Edwin L. Drake struck
oil. One name in particular is linked with further oil exploitation in America: John
Davison Rockefeller. In 1862 at the age of 23 he founded an oil company that
became Standard Oil and later the Exxon Corporation and incorporated large sec-
tions of the American oil industry.
However, it was still well into the 20th century before fossil energy supplies, and
specifi cally oil, dominated the energy market. In 1860 about 100000 tons of oil
were produced worldwide; by 1895 it was already 14 million tons. German govern-
ment fi gures reveal that in 1895 there were 18362 wind engines, 54529 water
engines, 58 530 steam engines and 21 350 internal combustion engines in use in the
country (Gasch and Twele, 2004). Half the drive units even then were themselves
still being operated using renewable energy sources.
There was a huge rise in oil production in the 20th century. In 1929 output had
already risen to over 200 million tons and in the 1970s it shot up to over three billion
tons (Figure 1.2). Today oil is the most important energy source of most industrial-
ized countries. An average UK citizen, including small children and pensioners, uses
around 1600 litres of oil per year. An average German citizen uses 2000 litres and
an US citizen an astonishing 4000 litres. This amounts to 40 well-fi lled bathtubs.
Being too dependent on a single energy source can become a serious problem for
a society, as history shows. In 1960 OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting
Countries) was founded with headquarters in Vienna. The goal of OPEC is to coor-
dinate and standardize the oil policies of its member states. These include Algeria,
Ecuador, Gabon, Indonesia, Iraq, Qatar, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia,
Venezuela and the United Arab Emirates, which at the end of the 20th century
together controlled 40% of oil production worldwide. As a result of the Yom Kippur
war between Israel, Syria and Egypt, the OPEC states cut back on production in
1973. This led to the fi rst oil crisis and a drastic rise in oil prices. Triggered by
shortfalls in production and uncertainty after the revolution in Iran and the subse-
quent fi rst Gulf war, the second oil crisis occurred in 1979 with oil prices rising to
US$38 per barrel.