Oil & Gas Industry Saves the Whales!

Last week, I attended this year's annual Energy & Mineral Law Institute, where I spoke on the application of implied covenants to oil and gas leases in shale plays.  The meeting was held at a resort in western Pennsylvania, just a few hours' drive from the birthplace of the modern petroleum industry.  Although the speakers focused on legal issues currently facing the oil and gas industry, the location of the meeting tempted a few speakers into commenting briefly on the industry's origins.  They noted that the industry was started in western Pennsylvania, with the first oil well being drilled in Titusville, Pennsylvania in 1859.  The impetus for drilling the well was to find petroleum that could be used to manufacture kerosene for lamps.  At that time, whale oil was the main source for lamp oil, but whale populations were declining due to extensive whaling, and this was driving up the price for whale oil.

Up until this point in the story about the history of the oil and gas industry, the information is all similar to information that I mention to my students in the Introduction to Mineral Law course that I teach each year as an adjunct professor at Loyola Law School in New Orleans.  But Tim McCrum, one of the speakers at the E&MLF Annual Institute, took the historical analysis to the next step by noting that the rise of the oil and gas industry provided an inexpensive alternative to whale oil, thereby leading to a decline in whaling that helped to preserve whale populations.  So, the next time you meet an environmentalist who criticizes the oil and gas industry, you can remind him ─ "The oil and gas industry saved the whales!" 

1861 Vanity Fair cartoon showing whales celebrating Pennsylvania's oil and gas industry

1861 Vanity Fair cartoon showing whales celebrating oil wells

Comments (2)

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Brian Olmen - November 14, 2011 7:40 AM

Keith, thank you for posting a wonderful historical cartoon. For an exceptionally well written look at energy (from chasing whales to oil) refer to Peter Tertzakian's "A Thousand Barrels a Second: The Coming Oil Break Point And the Challenges Facing An energy Dependent World" (2005 McGraw-Hill). In particular, Chpt 1, "Lighting The Last Whale Lamp"

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