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> Romanian Oil Discovery and Exploitation Issue: 2009-3 Section: Chemistry





In this article the history of oil discovery and exploitation is presented.

Petroleum is a natural deposit, which is connected with most aspects of comfort and modern civilization. Petroleum is a natural mixture of solid and gaseous hydrocarbons, dissolved in liquid hydrocarbons which contains less than 1 percent of organic compounds with oxygen, nitrogen or sulfur.

It was discovered thousand years ago, when, Mesopotamians had noticed the existence of some asphalt areas due to oil oxidation layers located at the surface. The first source of oil was mentioned in documents around 460 B.C, in Persia, and the first reference of drilling and oil extraction was recorded in a Chinese manuscript in 221 B.C.

The Egyptians describe in their writings the existence of an eternal fire, which formed frightening images, that scientists had explained by lightening coming from combustion of gaseous substances emanated from oil deposits.

In ancient times, it was used occasionally, as medicine, to treat various diseases, thanks to his bactericidal properties and as fuel as a binder in construction, pave roads and for waterproofing ships.

The Egyptians were using it for embalming the bodies of the deceased.

Historical documents indicate its use as weapons fire, of oil devices in the Greco-Persian wars.

The name naptu used for oil during the development of Babylon suggests that, by that time, it was used for lightening, because nabatu means light.

The same thing is suggested by references in Hammurabi’s Laws, in 1875 B.C, who regulated for the first time, written, the use of the oil.

The Egyptians, who discovered oil deposits at the surface, in the Suez Gulf region, they called it oil stone, a name which the Romans borrowed from them, oleum petrae, terms which form the etymology of petroleum used today. Romania’s oil deposits are known from the first century B.C, but the first documents date from the second century and the interest of the inhabitants of this area towards petroleum continues in the next centuries, such as many ceramics show from II-XVI centuries, which were found impregnated with crude oil traces.

In Romania, the first oil processing facilities are considered two handicraft workshops, called at that time găzării, established in 1840 and 1844 in Lucăceşti-Bacău, which, equipped with rudimentary tools, used a distillation method of petroleum similar to that used for alcohol production in peasant households.

Industrial distillation of oil had started in 1856, when the Mehedinţeanu brothers built up and operated the first oil refinery in the world, on the outskirts of Ploieşti, near the South Railway Station, on the Buna Vestire Street, no.174. Based on this refinery production, Teodor Mehedinţeanu, the owner of refinery, offered to Romanian State, for public lightening of Bucharest, the capital of the country, a kerosene with outstanding qualities.

It hadn’t smell, it was colorless, burned without smoke and without leaving ashes, with bright and constant flame.

The price was 335 lei per year for each oil lamp, conditions that have ousted any competition. His offer was approved on 8 October 1856, and two years later, in 1858, Bucharest became the first town in the world publically illuminated by 1000 oil lamps with kerosene.

From now on a petroleum industry has begun practically to develop in Romania which during 150 years had registered the evolution of some large scale oil companies such as: Romanian-American, Vega, Astra Romana, Concordia, Creditul Minier, companies which will boost the increase of oil Romanian production, from 275 tons in 1857 to 15.900 tons in 1880.

The Science of Petroleum attested in 1938 that Romania was the first country in the world with an oil production officially registered in the international statistics with 275 tons in 1857, followed by USA in 1859, Italy in 1860, Canada in 1862 and Russia in 1863.

Around 1900s, Romania started to gain momentum not only in oil deposits exploitation of the country (Romania being the first country in the world which exported gasoline since 1900), but also geological research drilling and extraction.

In the oil processing field, Lazăr Edeleanu distinguished himself because in 1908 he patented a selective refining oil method with liquid sulfur dioxide, method which was adopted in all the countries which processed oil.

This patent fetched the author the Redwood medal in 1932.

Professor Ludovic Mrazek, from the Bucharest University, formulated the organic theory of oil origin and took it up in the World Congress of Oil, in 1907, along with convex creases theory. He explained the oil deposits appearance by an anaerobic decomposition of the animal and vegetable organisms from the marine plankton.

Abjection products deposited on the seabed of some interiors seas, in reducing environment and under the catalytic influence of the surrounding rocks, during geological eras, oil bags took shape. Convex creases theory defines for the first time the convexity phenomenon for rock salt and it shows that these creases could be an efficient trap for hydrocarbons deposits.

For these contributions in the development of science, professor Ludovic Mrazek also got the Redwood medal. In the drilling field, the Romanian engineer Ion Basgan realised a method for circular drilling upgrading beginning with the sonic theory of another Romanian scientist, Gogu Constantinescu, patented in 1934 in Romania and in 1937 in USA.

In the modern age the petroleum extraction is followed by its processing in modern refineries where it’s submitted to primary processing through distillation followed by a secondary processing through thermal or catalytic cracking.

After the primary processing by fractional distillation at normal pressure, the oil dissociates in petroleum fractions which contain hydrocarbons mixtures, used the most frequently as fuels for different types of engines:


  • light and heavy fuel used as solvents and carburants for automobiles and planes;
  • white spirit-carburant for turbo-jets;
  • kerosene-carburant for tractors and planes;
  • Diesel oil-carburant for Diesel engines;
  • fuel oil-as fuel or for lubricated oil production, paraffin, asphalt.


In the secondary processing, taking part in all the heavy petroleum fractions obtained in the prior stage, the Diesel oil and fuel oil, which by heating to 400 Celsius degrees, are transformed in light fuels, with bigger octane digits. By catalytic reformation in the same stage, acyclic hydrocarbons are transformed in aromatic hydrocarbons, used as raw material in the different synthesis of organic matters. A whole chemical industry branch developped the petrochemical industry, capable to transform more than 17000 substances existing in the crude oil composition in products without which we can hardly imagine our life and our daily activity (medicine, synthetic rubber, toners, plastics, synthetic yarns, adhesives, detergents, make-up, explosives etc).

Unfortunately, in the same time with the increase of the world population, the needs of a more civilized life also increased, so that the oil and natural gases reserves, the main primary matters and energy resources, which are exhaustible reserves, considerably decreased, punishing the humanity to witness,in the following centuries, apocalyptic scenarios.

In my opinion, from now on we should take responsible action towards the next generations decreasing this exaggerated consumption and using alternative sources of energy.

I think that is our duty, the young generation’s, to sensitize the public opinion regarding these aspects.