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Contents: Events | Largest Oil Spills | Links

Significant Events:

  • 4.6 Billion years ago our - Sun started burning.
  • 4 Billion years ago - Earths crust solidifies and an atmosphere begins to form from gasses coming out of volcanoes (nitrogen (N2), Carbon Dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), water vapor (H2O); They may have combined to form some ammonia (NH3) and methane (CH4) also. Some water may have come from comets.
  • 2.2 Billion years ago - Oxygen, created by cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) over the previous half Billion years, replaces most of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
  • 540-440 Million years ago - Complex plants and animals burst into life during the Cambrian explosion.
  • 360-290 Million years ago in the Carboniferous Period (carboniferous means "coal-bearing"), some forests in or near lagoons or marshes sank below water, and their debris accumulated in sedimentary basins as peat. The peat was covered by sand and clay and other minerals, which turned into a type of rock called sedimentary. The peat is slowly transformed under conditions of increasing temperature and pressure into bitumens and finally into elementary carbon or coal.
    Note: Coal depending on the type (anthracite, bituminous and lignite) is made up of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and varying amounts of sulphur.
    See: Coal - Energy Explained at EIA (U.S. Energy Information Administration)
    and BeyondCoal (Sierra Club)

    Organic waste - primarily microscopic plankton floating in seas, and also land plants accumule at the bottom of oceans, lakes, and coastal areas and are buried beneath successive levels of sediments. Pressure and underground heat "cooked" the plant matter, converting it into hydrocarbons - oil and natural gas. Natural gas requires higher temperatures and is usually found at greater depths. The exact timing and mechanism is still a theory.
    See Oil: Energy Explained at EIA .

    If the water of dehydration can leak out of the geological formation leaving the dried and dehydrated materials behind you will end up with coal. If the water of dehydration is trapped within the geological formation and cannot escape you will end up with oil.

  • 800,000 years ago - Homo Sapiens harness fire.
  • 38,000 years ago - Oil seeps up to the surface and forms pools where animals are caught. See La Brea Tar Pits near Los Angeles.
  • 3,000 B.C. The ancient Sumerians, Assyrians and Babylonians used crude oil and asphalt ("pitch") collected from large seeps at Tuttul (modern-day Hit northwest of Bagdad in Iraq) on the Euphrates River not only as fuels, but also as road building materials and for water-proofing, chalking, ...
    This is the same stuff used to seal Noah's arc and the boat used in the flood documented in the Epic of Gilgamesh (probably the same flood).
  • 1,000 B.C. - Coal from the Fu-shun mine in northeastern China may have been used to smelt copper.
  • 61 A.D. - Roman philosopher Seneca says: "As soon as I had gotten out of the heavy air of Rome and the stink of the smoky chimneys...which poured forth ..pestilential vapors and soot...I felt an alteration of my disposition"
  • 100-200 Archeologists have found evidence that the Romans in England used coal.
  • 347 A.D. Oil wells are drilled in China up to 800 feet deep using bits attached to bamboo poles.
  • 1300 North American Hopi Indians used coal for cooking, heating and to bake the pottery they made from clay.
  • 1769 - James Watt improves the steam engine to make it efficient for industrial use. It was fired by coal.
  • 1827 - French scientist Jean-Baptiste Fourier is the first to consider the greenhouse effect: the phenomenon whereby atmospheric gases trap solar energy, increasing Earth's surface temperature, rather than let the heat radiate back into space.
  • 1830 - First commercial coal powered steam locomotive in the U.S., the Tom Thumb
  • 1849 - Distillation of kerosene from oil by Canadian geologist Dr. Abraham Gesner. Kerosene eventually replaces whale oil as the illuminant of choice and creates a new market for crude oil.
  • 1854-56 - The first oil refineries in the world were built by Ignacy Lukasiewicz near Jaslo, Austrian Empire (now in Poland). As Lukasiewicz's kerosene lamp gained popularity, the refining industry grew.
  • 1857 - A ban was placed on steam-powered locomotives below 42nd street in Manhattan to control noise and smoke pollution.
  • 1859 - Edwin L. Drake drills the first oil well near Titusville, Pennsylvania. Refineries processed crude oil primarily to recover the kerosene for lighting. There was no market for the more volatile fractions, including gasoline, which was considered waste and was often dumped directly into the nearest river. Story
  • 1878 - Thomas Edison invents the electric light bulb.
  • 1881 - W.N. Hartley identifies ozone as the substance that absorbs ultraviolet radiation from the sun at wavelengths below 290 nanometers. He also shows that ozone resides primarily at high altitudes.
  • 1882 - The first electrical power plant was built by Thomas Edison on Pearl Street in New York City and generated DC power for street and building lights in a one square mile area. It had steam powered generators called dynamos, fired by coal. A model of efficiency for its time, Pearl Street used one-third the fuel of its predecessors, burning about ten pounds of coal per kilowatt-hour. Story.

    Samuel Insull, who had worked for Edison, founded the Western Edison Light Co. in Chicago. It later became the Commonwealth Edison Co. By 1920 he had 500,000 customers and was instrumental in creating an integrated electrical infrastructure in the United States.

  • 1885 - Coal replaces wood as the dominant fuel for home heating.
  • 1885 - Gas wells are drilled in Stockton, California for fuel and lighting.
  • 1885 - Gottlieb Daimler invented what is often recognized as the prototype of the modern gas engine - with a vertical cylinder, and with gasoline injected through a carburetor (patented in 1887)
  • 1892 - Nicolai Tesla and George Westinghouse build the first AC generating plant, using the power of the waterfalls at Niagara Falls.
  • 1896 - "First" submerged offshore oil wells at Baku Azerbaijan in the Caspian Sea and on the California Coast near Santa Barbara. See Offshore Oil History (Petroleum History Resources)
  • 1908 - The first Ford Motor Company automobile, Ford's Model T, was designed to use corn (ethyl) alcohol, called ethanol. Henry Ford said it was "the fuel of the future". The engine was capable of running on gasoline and kerosene also.
  • mid-1920s - 60 percent of U.S. residences had electricity.
  • 1908 - First middle east oil strike. William Knox D'Arcy, a British millionaire, struck oil at Masjid-i-Sulaiman, the site of a natural oil seep in the Zagros Mountains of western Persia (southwest part of Iran).
  • 1915 - Nikola Tesla, (Best known for developing the modern alternating current (AC) electrical supply system. His many revolutionary developments in the field of electromagnetism formed the basis of wireless communication and the radio.) writes in "The Wonder World To Be Created By Electricity",
    "We have at our disposal three main sources of life-sustaining energy
    --fuel, water-power and the heat of the sun's rays. ...
    The force of wind ... is valuable in special instances.
    If we use fuel to get our power, we are living on our capital and exhausting it rapidly. This method is barbarous and wantonly wasteful, and will have to be stopped in the interest of coming generations."
  • 1937 - First offshore oil platform in 14 feet of water one mile off the Louisiana shore.
  • 1940's - Oil replaces coal as dominant home heating fuel, burned in forced air furnaces (FAU's).
  • 1936-50 - Great American streetcar scandal - The story goes: "Between 1936 and 1950, National City Lines bought out more than 100 streetcar and other electric surface-traction systems in 45 cities and replaced them with buses. National City was financed by General Motors, Firestone Tire, Standard Oil of California, Phillips Petroleum and Mack.
    In "GM and the Red Cars" Stan Schwartz says this was a myth. "General Motors, did buy the Los Angeles Railway [LARY] in 1944. They did replace some streetcar lines with buses, but the introduction of buses in the LARY had begun in 1930." In a 1947 court case GM was charged on two counts under the Sherman Antitrust Act. They were acquitted of "Conspiring to acquire control of a number of transit companies" and convicted of "Conspiring to monopolize sales of buses to companies owned by National City Lines."
    In 1974 Bradford Snell, a government attorney, who wrote "American Ground Transport", brought up the issue again.
    The 1988 film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is based on this story.
    There are still arguments on both sides of the issue.
    See Revival of Streetcars in 2010 below.
  • 1947 - First deep sea oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • 1948 - A temperature inversion kept a dense smoke cloud of smog (sulfur dioxide and particulate matter) close to the ground for six days in the Monongahela River Valley steel mill town of Donora, Pennsylvania. 19 die and 43% of the townspeople became ill.
  • 1952 - "killer smog" (dense fog and sooty black coal smoke) hits London killing 4,000. It remains the deadliest environmental episode in recorded history. Story.
  • 1955 - Arco, Idaho, (population 1,000) became the first U.S. town powered by nuclear energy.
  • 1956 - M. King Hubbert published his famous article, "Nuclear Power and the Fossil Fuels", in which he sketched out the basic thesis of oil depletion. See HubbertPeak.com
  • 1958 First supertanker or VLCC (Very Large Crude Carrier) with a capacity measured in deadweight metric tons (DWT) greater than 200,000 tons (some use 250,000 tons as the min. size for a supertanker now). Built in response to the closing of the Suez Canal. They can carry 62 to 150 million gallons of crude oil. ULCC (Ultra Large Crude Carrier) can be up to 550,000 DWT and be 1,300 feet (1/4 mile) long.
  • 1958 - U.S. scientist Charles David Keeling detects a yearly rise in atmospheric CO2.
  • 1961 - The first automotive emissions control technology in the nation, Positive Crankcase Ventilation (PCV), was mandated in California by 1963.
  • 1964 - California requires minimal emission control systems on 1966 model cars.
  • 1967 - The California Air Resources Board (ARB) was created from the merging of the California Motor Vehicle Pollution Control Board and the Bureau of Air Sanitation.
  • 1969 - An off-shore oil platform blowout released 3 million gallons of crude oil into the waters near Santa Barbara.
  • 1970 - Clean Air Act - The Clean Air Act is the law that defines newly established EPA's (Environmental Protection Agency) responsibilities for protecting and improving the nation's air quality and the stratospheric ozone layer.
    New cars must meet a 0.41 gram per mile HC standard and a 3.4 grams per mile CO standard by 1975; NOx emissions must be reduced to 0.4 gram per mile by 1976.
  • 1972 - According to many estimates U.S. oil production peaked. See: Peak Oil
  • 1973 oil crisis - OPEC (Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries) proclaimed an oil embargo "in response to the U.S. decision to re-supply the Israeli military" during the Yom Kippur war. The price of oil quadrupled. Gas went from under 36¢ per gallon to 53¢ ($1.87 in 2008 dollars). The main problem was availability, resulting in rationing (even/odd days, no fill-up) causing long lines. See gas prices.
  • 1974 - F. Sherwood Rowland and Mario Molina discover that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) can destroy ozone in the stratosphere.
  • 1975 - CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards established by the Energy Policy Conservation Act. The near-term goal was to double new car fuel economy (to 27.5 mpg) by model year 1985. It is a weighted average fuel economy, expressed in miles per gallon (mpg), required of a manufacturer's fleet of passenger cars or light trucks.
  • 1977 - Congress' Clean Air Act Amendments of 1977 weakened EPA standards on automobile emissions, especially for lead. New Jersey and California responded by creating their own stricter regulations for emissions.
  • 1978 - CFCs used in aerosols are banned in the United States.
  • 1979 - Three Mile Island Accident - The core of a nuclear power plant near Middletown, Pa. started to melt because of a cooling water problem, resulting in the release of some radiation into the atmosphere. Estimates are that the average dose to about 2 million people in the area was only about 1 millirem. To put this into context, exposure from a chest x-ray is about 6 millirem.
  • 1979 - The Shah of Iran is disposed in what was called "The Iranian Revolution" and replaced by Ayatollah Khomeini. Oil exports to the world were cut off.
    - President Carter proclaims a national energy supply shortage and establishes temperature restrictions in nonresidential buildings.
  • 1979 - Pemex's Ixtoc I exploratory oil well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico 600 miles south of Texas is recognized as the second largest oil spill in history, 140 million gallons. See oil spills below.
  • 1979 - The supertanker AMOCO CADIZ ran aground in the English Channel spilling nearly 70 million gallons.
  • 1980 - Oil shortage during Iraq-Iran war - Gas prices hit $1.38/gal ($3.55 in 2008 dollars)
  • 1980 - The Energy Security Act, consisting of six major acts: U.S. Synthetic Fuels Corporation Act, Biomass Energy and Alcohol Fuels Act, Renewable Energy Resources Act, Solar Energy and Energy Conservation Act and Solar Energy and Energy Conservation Bank Act, Geothermal Energy Act, and Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion Act.
  • 1980's - Gas additives, Oxygenates, which help gasoline burn more completely, reducing harmful tailpipe emissions, are added to gasoline. They included MTBE (Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether - made from natural gas and petroleum) and ETBE (Ethyl Tertiary Butyl Ether - made from ethanol and petroleum).
  • 1980 - Concerns about safety, uncertainty about how to handle nuclear waste and the high cost ($8 billion) of plant construction all made proposals for new nuclear plants unfeasible. The last plant in the works was finished in 1996.
  • 1986 - Chernobyl Accident - Human error resulted in melt down of the reactor core of a nuclear power plant in the Ukrainian and a powerful explosion. It blew 100 million curies of radioactivity into the environment. 31 rescue workers who fought the fire at Chernobyl died, 28 of them from radiation poisoning. Large areas of Belarus, Ukraine, Russia and beyond were contaminated in varying degrees. Estimates of the number of people suffering premature death over the subsequent years range from 4,000 - 80,000. A 2010 report says the number could be over 500,000.
  • 1988 - A 4 million gallon oil storage tank owned by Ashland Oil Company, Inc., split apart and collapsed in Floreffe, PA, The oil was carried by the Monongahela River into the Ohio River, temporarily contaminating drinking water sources for an estimated one million people in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio, contaminating river ecosystems, killing wildlife, damaging private property. Story.
  • 1988 - Summer heat wave reduces air quality below federal air quality standards for 120 million people in the U.S.
  • 1988 - Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) established by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to assess scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant for the understanding of climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation.
  • 1989 - The oil tanker Exxon Valdez struck Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska, spilling more than 11 million gallons of crude oil. The cleanup cost the company $2.5 billion. Story.
  • 1990 - Practice of fracking (Hydraulic fracturing of shale to release (primarily) natural gas, becomes more common with the development of horizontal drilling in the 80's. Large oil and gas reserves in Texas, North Dakota and Pennsylvania have been fueling a kind of "gold rush" boom.
    According to the International Energy Agency, the global use of natural gas will account for over 25% of world energy demand in 2035.
    However there are many environmental concerns with the practice.
    I couldn't find any estimates on the potential amount of gas that can be recovered with fracking.
  • 1990 - Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA-90), requires that all tankers entering U.S. waters be double-hulled by 2015
  • 1991 - Gulf War oil spill - Largest Oil Spill in history - 500 million gallons - As Iraqi troops retreated from Kuwait during the first Gulf War, they opened the valves of oil wells and pipelines, pouring oil into the Persian Gulf.
  • 1992 - Creation of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the Rio Summit, which also calls for voluntary cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
  • 1997 - UNFCCC countries adopt the Kyoto Protocol in Kyoto, Japan, on 11 December 1997 and entered into force on 16 February 2005. . Under its first commitment period, industrialised countries are required to reduce emissions of six key greenhouse gases to 5.2 per cent below their 1990 levels by the end of 2012. Fleshing out its complex and legally binding rulebook is left to further negotiations.
    The United States, the biggest single greenhouse-gas polluter, abandons the Kyoto Protocol. President George W. Bush questions scientific consensus on global warming, says the treaty is too expensive for the U.S. economy and unfair as big developing countries escape binding emissions pledges.
  • 1994 - The Durham Woods fire, in Edison NJ, was caused when a local contractor hit 36" natural gas pipeline while digging. Over 100 residents were left homeless and one death occurred from a heart attack. Story & video.
  • 1996 - Last U.S. nuclear power plant to go online in Spring City, TN. Watts Bar "took almost 23 years to build and cost nearly $8 billion".
  • 2000 - A coal slurry containment pond in Martin County, Ky., broke through an underground mine, unleashing over 250 million gallons of toxic sludge containing heavy metals including mercury, lead, arsenic, copper and chromium and polluting hundreds of miles of local waterways. See story.
  • 2000 - A natural gas pipeline rupture and fire near Carlsbad, New Mexico caused an explosion and fire that killed 12 members of the same family.
  • 2003 - Since 2003, ethanol has grown rapidly as the oxygenating factor for gasoline. Ethanol replaced MTBE for oxygenating fuel, since almost all states now have banned MTBE, due to groundwater contamination, health and environmental concerns. Use of 10% ethanol gasoline is mandated in some U.S. states and cities.
  • 2005 - Kyoto Protocol takes effect on February 16.
  • 2005 - Sierra Club leaders vote to move energy ahead of environmental protection in the club's priorities.
    In 2006 the board declared that the Club's top goal in the next five years is to "advance a smart, safe, clean energy future in the next decade."
  • 2006 - Former U.S. vice president Al Gore's docu-movie "An Inconvenient Truth" drives global warming up the U.S. political agenda.
  • 2007 - IPCC's fourth assessment (AR4) says glacial shrinkage, ice loss and permafrost retreat are signs that climate change is already underway. Predicts higher risk of drought, floods and more powerful storms this century, increasing the probability of hunger, homelessness and water-borne disease. Forecasts likely warming of 1.8 to 4.0°C and raised sea levels of 18 to 59 cm by 2100.
  • 2007 - The IPCC and Al Gore share the year's Nobel Peace Prize for "their efforts to build up and disseminate knowledge about man-made climate change."
  • 2008 - Average U.S. gas prices hit $4.05 per gallon in July and oil goes over $140 per barrel. Financial speculation in the futures markets was blamed for much of the problem.
  • 2008 - A Tennessee Valley Authority sludge holding pond in Harriman, Tennessee failed on December 22, flooding hundreds of acres with the liquid form of fly ash, a byproduct of burning coal at the Kingston Fossil Plant. Fly ash contains heavy metals and other toxins.
  • 2008 - The G8 summit in Hokkaido, Japan, in July gives the biggest emitters a chance to move forward in parallel with the UN meetings. The eight nations, including the US, commit to a vision of halving global emissions by 2050.
  • 2009 - Climategate - Thousands of emails and other documents, all of which were hacked or copied without authorization from the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit (CRU). Claims were made that emails showed evidence that climate scientists withheld scientific information which did not support global warming.
    Two investigations found no fraud, but recommended better disclosure.
  • 2009 - Over 2,000 academics gather at the International Scientific Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen with the aim of providing a scientific update to the IPCC's 2007 assessment. Delegates agree that more stringent and urgent action is needed to avoid dangerous climate change, but there is a growing fear that the message is simply failing to reach the public and policymakers. The Copenhagen Accord sets the goal of limiting global temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). It also pledges $30 billion between 2010 and 2012 and $100 billion a year by 2020 for developing countries to help adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change. Developing countries had demanded up to $500 billion per year from the richer countries. U.S. agrees to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020.
  • 2009 - Pew Research Center study - There has been a sharp decline over the past year in the percentage of Americans who say there is solid evidence that global temperatures are rising. And fewer also see global warming as a very serious problem - 35% say that today, down from 44% in April 2008.
  • 2009 - American Clean Energy And Security Act of 2009 passed by the House - The bill would reduce nationwide greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050 through a so-called "cap-and-trade" program under which companies would buy and sell emissions credits. It is due for debate in the Senate in May of 2010.
  • 2010 - Several '60s & '70s era nuclear reactors required to add cooling towers instead of using river or ocean water which have been killing fish.
  • 2010 - EPA sets new CAFE standard of 34.1 miles per gallon by 2016.
    See History Behind Today's Clean Cars Rules Announcement
  • 2010 - An explosion at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Viriginia killed 29 miners.
  • 2010 - Between 2002 and 2005 at least five major cities added new streetcar lines and at least 40 have lines in the works. See Streetcar Revival: Will Your Town Be Next? - AARP Bulletin Today
  • 2010 - A study, "Ecological Integrity of Streams Related to Human Cancer Mortality Rates" in EcoHealth DOI, found a relationship between the amount of nearby coal mining and both stream health and cancer rates. Stream ecological condition was correlated with digestive, breast, respiratory, and urinary cancer mortality rates.
  • 2010 - An BP oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico explodes on April 20 and sinks on April 22, killing 11 workers and spilling oil into the gulf. As of May 1st it was leaking 210,000 gallons per day into the Gulf. See story
  • 2014 - Estimates for peak world oil production range from 2002 to 2020+. A 2010 study places the date when world production will start to decline at 2014. This does not mean that the world is running out of oil; it means that we are running out of the cheap pumpable oil that has fueled the economic development of the 20th Century. See: Peak Oil.
- Natural oil seeps on the seafloor. The best known such seep is Coal Oil Point along the California coast where an estimated 1 Million gallons of crude oil is released each year.
- According to the U.S. Department of Energy, 1.3 million gallons of petroleum are spilled into U.S. waters from vessels and pipelines in a typical year

Source: Why do so many oil spills happen? / The Christian Science Monitor - CSMonitor.com

Largest spills:
Oil spills of over 100,000 tonnes or 30 million US gallons at Wikipedia
The World`s Biggest: World's 5 Biggest Oil Spills
The Largest Spills in History
CDNN :: Tanker Oil Spill Timeline
Back to top.

The Energy Story - Fossil Fuels - Coal, Oil and Natural Gas at EnergyQuest.CA.gov
History of the Oil Industry
Department of Energy - Timeline
Global warming: a timeline | COSMOS magazine
EIA Energy Kids - Energy Timelines
Automobile and the Environment in American History: Auto Emissions and Air Pollution
History of the Automobile
NETL: History of U.S. Coal Use
Key Events in the History or Air Quality in California
Ethanol Fuel History.
Unique Nuclear Reactors
Ozone Depletion Phenomenon Timeline
History of Petroleum
Coal formation: how is coal formed ?
What is the History of the Earth's Atmosphere?
Earth's atmosphere
World Nuclear Power Today | world-nuclear.org
List of nuclear power plants in America
The Power Grid DVD

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last updated 28 May 2010