Wilderness Underfoot: Black gold, Texas tea

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11128040811970.jpg’, ”, ‘An Illinois oil well – People living in the northern half of Illinois are often surprised the first time they come across an oil well in the southern half of our state. The typical Illinois oil well stands alone on the edge of a corn or soybean field, slowly pumping away hour by hour, eking out a barrel or two each day.’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11128042631960.jpg’, ”, ‘Oil is found in the “Illinois Basin” – The basin is a low-lying region that stretches across southern Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky. Annual petroleum production here reached 180,000 barrels in 1905. Production peaked at 80 million barrels annually during the late 1950s and early 1960s. By the 1990s, Illinois petroleum production was down to 18 million barrels each year. Recently, it has averaged about 11 million barrels annually. The decline is a result of stagnant fuel prices–a problem that appears to be going away!’);

Although our state isn’t often thought of as a major oil producer, it ranks 14th in the nation…

Illinois has been producing petroleum since the early 1860s, when the state’s first wells were drilled in Clark and Montgomery counties. It was only a few years earlier, in 1859, that Edwin Drake had drilled the world’s first oil well in the state of Pennsylvania.

Originally, this fossil fuel proved an excellent replacement for whale oil – which was used to fill lamps and make candles, and to lubricate machinery. The gradual decline of whale fisheries, and the impact of the Civil War on shipping, stirred America’s passion for petroleum. Our hunger for this natural resource has steadily increased since those times.

Petroleum is referred to as a “fossil fuel” because it comes from the remains of ancient marine life. Most of the organic material that makes up petroleum came from tiny microorganisms and algae. These organisms flourished in warm shallow seas, and they were plentiful in the waters that flowed over Illinois through much of the Paleozoic Era. When they died, the decaying organic matter was buried by sediment. With just the right amount of heat and pressure, the material was converted into petroleum.

Scientists today are concerned that by burning greater and greater amounts of fossil fuels, we are releasing “greenhouse gases” such as carbon dioxide into the air. These gases, which have been locked deep underground for millions of years, are now contributing to a shift in the balance of our atmosphere – a change that many scientists agree could cause global warming.

From the April 6-12, 2005, issue

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