Unrefined petroleum has been utilized by humans for more than 5000 years for different purposes so it becomes difficult to narrow down to the person who first extracted petroleum from the ground and used it deliberately for some purpose. Petroleum is a mixture of hydrocarbons (organic compounds containing both hydrogen and carbon). Before the Industrial Revolution, petroleum was readily available near the ground – one didn’t have to dig very deep to find petroleum. With time, as more and more petroleum was exploited, it got deeper and deeper into the ground.

The earliest example of petroleum extraction comes from the 8th century Baghdad in Iraq. They were using oil to produce tar which in turn was being used to pave the roads. The oil fields started to spread out from there. Azerbaijan had its own oil fields by the 9th century. Their purpose was used to produce naphtha.

Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi, a chemist from Arabia, was the first person to extract petroleum products from crude oil by means of destructive distillation. (It is just the name of a process and it has nothing to do with any collateral destruction of any kind!) Al-Razi produced kerosene from raw petroleum.

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the full potential of petroleum wasn’t realized until the advent of Industrial Revolution. The first oil boom occurred in the Russian Empire, where, at the center of the petroleum industry, in Azerbaijan, production doubled in the early 19th century. Soon the oil was also found in the United States and the Middle East and then there were a lot of oil booms. Even today, 80% of the known oil reserves are in the Middle East but scientists are clamoring for more investment in alternative sources, because petroleum is going be scarcer in the coming decades.


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Lucas Beaumont
Generalist. Wikipedia contributor. Elementary school teacher from Saskatchewan, Canada.

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