Tuesday, April 25, 2017
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Poland as a Pioneer in Petroleum Industry

LukasiewiczIn recent years petroleum influence world politics and economy more than any other energy resource used worldwide. How many of you know that Poland was a pioneer in petroleum mining worldwide. Poland was among the main petroleum producers in the world. In the beginning of XIX century Poland was the 3rd petroleum producer in the world, just behind the US and Russia. Unfortunately, the petroleum boom did not last long. Poland lacked large petroleum deposits resources to remain a worldwide petroleum center.

Ignacy Lukasiewicz, a Pole, was a worldwide known pioneer in development of petroleum industry. Lukasiewicz (1822-1982), Polish pharmacist of Armenian descent invented the way to use kerosene, product obtained in petroleum distillation, for the kerosene lamp, called also paraffin lamp. Kerosene lamp replaced so called Argand lamp based on the whale oil.  Kerosene lamps were much cheaper, since kerosene was much easier obtainable than whale oil. The kerosene lamps were the precursors of the electric bulbs. They were still in everyday use when my grandparents lived and my parents were young. Ignacy Lukasiewicz was also a founder of the first oil well in Poland.

Lukasiewicz was born March 8, 1822 in Zaduszniki near Mielec in Southeastern part of Poland, called Galicia, which then belonged to Austria. His parents belonged to the local intelligentsia. After he graduated from the secondary school he had to start working as a pharmacist's assistant due to a difficult financial situation of his family. Lukasiewicz followed his parents patriotic work and became involved in the patriotic movement which main goal was Poland's independence. For his political activities he was imprisoned in Lwow for a bit over a year. After he was released from the prison in December 1947 he went to study in Krakow and Vienna. He graduated with the degree in pharmacy in 1852 and returned to Lwow.

Lukasiewicz first heard about petroleum during the university lectures. He was wondering whether seep oil would not be able to replace expensive whale oil used in Argand lamps. Lukasiewicz was familiar with seep oil which leaked from the rocks in Carpathian region.  Seep oil was used in medicine and as a grease or lubricant. It was burned in street lamps in Krosno around 1500.

Lukasiewicz began to experiment with distillation techniques soon after he came back from his studies, but it was Abraham Gesner, a Canadian who distilled kerosene first, in 1849. Lukasiewicz together with Zeh were able to distil kerosene three years later.  Lukasiewicz then built the first petroleum lamp together with Bratkowski. This lamp was used in the hospital for the emergency surgery on a dark night on July 31, 1853.  The hospital doctors were so impressed that he was asked for several lamps and 500 kilo of kerosene. After this success Lukasiewicz went to Vienna to register his invention so that he would be able to develop his product on a business scale.

Lukasiewicz initially collected crude oil from shallow hand-dug wells in Bobrka, southwest from Krosno in Carpathians like people did it before him for hundreds of years. After he teamed up with Trzeciewski and Kielbasa, he was able to establish the first industrial oil mine in Bóbrka, Southeast from Krosno. By using the engineering equipment they were able to pump crude oil from hand-drilled, 30- to 50-meter deep wells. Later, wells as deep as 150 meters were drilled that produced a lighter, better-quality crude from which the kerosene was distilled. Then other entrepreneurs, Polish and foreign, dug their own wells deeper and deeper by use of more modern equipment,and a thriving Polish oil industry developed.

The Golden Epoch of Polish petroleum industry was in years: 1904-1908. Several modern oil wells were constructed and put to work. The deposits of petroleum in Karpathian foothills seemed never ending. From time to time the production was slowed by flammable petroleum which caused fires in the mines and in the destilleries (destillery was the early form of raffinery).

When the supply in petroleum exceeded its demand,  the petroleum price went down. Simultaneously, the production was becoming more and more expensive since one had to drill deeper deposits. Carpathian region had many petroleum wells, but since they were usually not very petroleum-rich, the mines had to be moved frequently. After World War I, in free Poland, the industrial exploatation of the natural gas was initiated. Earlier natural gas was treated as a nuisance or just as a danger for the coal or petroleum miners. The first gas pipeline were built before WW II.

After the end of the WW II the petroleum industry was rebuilt. Unfortunately, the main petroleum deposits were already depleted, while few new deposits were found. Presently, petroleum exploitation covers less than 1% of Polish needs. Natural gaz deposits are more significant, they cover almost 40% of the needs.Poland imports petroleum products mainly from Russia, but there is some effort to diversify the suppliers, since Russia tries often using its petroleum deposist as a weapon in international trade.

Baba Jaga Corner


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