The Polish Oil Industry
In the April 2006 issue of Gas Engine Magazine, the Oil Field Engine News column spoke of early oil production in the world and the Drake oil well in Titusville, Pa. I've enjoyed the Drake Museum - I've been there three times. I've also been to the Bóbrka Museum of the oil industry in Bóbrka (boo-bor-kah), Poland.
I've put this article off for months, one of the reasons being that I had to translate parts of the museum guide book from Polish to English.
I was in Poland visiting the village where my grandfather came from (Podniebyle), and Bóbrka was nearby. My driver spoke little English and I had a lot of miles to travel that day, so I was only at the museum 30 to 45 minutes. Bóbrka is such a historical, fascinating place that I had to prepare and share this with the readers of GEM. I couldn't find some of the towns mentioned in the report on a map (Polance, Lwowa, etc.). Perhaps after the world wars, they no longer existed.
The following is a brief summary of the Polish oil industry to 1914, taken from the museum booklet Bóbrka i okolice:
Bóbrka is the cradle of the oil industry. In 1854, Ignacy Lukasiewicz contrived an oil lamp after founding a method of distilling crude oil. The extraction process that began here formed an industry that became a key branch of world commerce during the second half of the 19th century.
For over 150 years from when the production of rock oil began in Bóbrka, till today, she remains a living witness of Polish technology and organization. Created on the actual grounds of oil production, the Bóbrka Museum of Oil Industry recalls the beginning of the oil industry and its evolution. Located in the Podkarpackie region of southern Poland on a huge deposit, the area is still a source of crude oil and natural gas.
A monument built in 1872 on the museum grounds reads, "For the preservation of memories of the production of rock oil in Bóbrka, 1854." The area was known for a long time as a source of rock oil, which was used in the 18th century to grease wagons and as a medicine for illness.
In his work Physica Curiosa, published in 1682, Albert Tylkowski wrote of rock oil. Gabriel Raczynski wrote in his 1721 book Naturalis Curiosa Regni Poloniae of a source of oil in the neighborhood of Krosno. In 1781, Krzysztof Kluk wrote about the source of rock oil at the foot of the Beskidy Mountains. Jan Czastka writes, "The seepage of oil and exhalation of natural gas in the forests of Bóbrka was known for a long time. Oil collected from those seeps was used as medicine for sick people and animals."
Tytus Trzecieski, a farmer in the village of Polance, located near Krosno, used oil from Bóbrka for the treatment of sick sheep. He took a sample of the crude oil from the seeps of Bóbrka to the town of Lwowa. He wanted an opinion of the value and usefulness of the liquid coming from the earth. With no information available, he was advised to see Ignacy Lukasiewicz, a chemist residing in the town of Gorlice. Ignacy was known to possess experience in the distillation of rock oil.
Tytus traveled to Gorlice, met Ignacy, and discussed the fluid seeping from the ground. Ignacy was experimenting with rock oil that was obtained from a pit-mine in the nearby town of Sekowo. Tytus, a sharp-witted man familiar with the mining industry, and Ignacy, who knew the value of rock oil for creating mineral and lamp oil, decided to team up and extract the rock oil from Bóbrka.
The owner of the property from which the oil seeped was Karol Klobassa, who lived in the nearby village of Zrecin. When Tytus and Ignacy presented to Karol their plans to search for oil in the forests of Bóbrka, Karol was uncertain of such an undertaking, but Tytus and Ignacy obtained permission for the search of crude on the property. Thus, in 1854, the first oil exploration and extraction began in Bóbrka.
The exploration work, consisting of the digging of shallow pits, gave encouraging results. In 1856, Karol, Tytus and Ignacy formed a partnership to extract the crude oil. Karol and Tytus provided the needed capital to begin, and Ignacy was the director of the workers and the company. There was a lack of experienced miners in the area, so workers were fetched from Hungary and Germany, who in turn taught the practice of mining to the locals.
The first pit was dug to a depth of around 49 feet, then afterwards gradually increasing to 197 feet and ending at 459 feet. The profile was 4-by-4-foot square and heavily planked. For fresh air at the bottom of the pit, a manually operated ventilator was used. To split the hard rock, gunpowder and later dynamite, was used.
In 1862, by the use of these methods, the well, "Malgorzata," (Margaret) obtained at the beginning around 1,057 gallons of crude oil per day. With such copious flow, it was decided that further pits would be developed. Natural gas and conquering running water created great difficulties in the vertical pits.
Ignacy, a progressive man with regard to the workers' safety, thought of adapting other ways for obtaining crude oil from the earth. He came up with a primitive drill that used a steel rod with a sharpened chisel point. This method was used for a few years.
In 1856, Ignacy and Tytus built a distillery in the nearby village of Vlaszowica on the property of Franciska Trzecieski. The distillery was the first establishment of this sort on Polish soil. It was in operation for a short time when it burned down, and the local peasants did not favor its reconstruction.
Tytus built a new distillery in 1861 on his property in Polance. That same year, Karol, Tytus and Ignacy formed a 10-year agreement for managing the wells in Bóbrka and the distillery in Polance.
The distillery in Polance produced lamp and mineral oil. She prospered well and yielded the owners a respectable earning. The lamp oil had a large market in Wieden and Berlin.
In 1862, a newcomer to Bóbrka, Henryk Walter, a mining engineer and geologist, introduced a method of drilling involving a free-falling tool bit. This new method of extraction made it possible to reach deposits at lower depths.
In 1868, one of the mines, at the depth of 300 feet, hit a strong flow of mineral water. The large output of water was pumped out, for the first time in Poland, with the aid of a steam engine.
In 1870, by the invitation of Ignacy, Albert Fauk arrived in Bóbrka. Albert, a distinguished driller of German descent, brought with him the "Pennsylvania method" of drilling. Due to the geological conditions of the area, steam powered drilling gained favor over the free-falling bit method.
Ignacy had a strong concern of processing the crude oil from Bóbrka and the wells from the area. In 1865, he bought property in the nearby village of Chorkow, where at the site of the old brewery he built the largest refinery in the country. The oil wells in Bóbrka and the refinery in Chorkow were looked upon with high esteem by the oil industry.
In 1871, the partnership of Karol, Tytus and Ignacy dissolved. Karol remained the owner of the wells in Bóbrka, Tytus stopped his tenure and Ignacy remained as director of Bóbrka and the refinery in Chorkow. The refinery produced lamp oil, lubricants and grease.
In 1878, Ignacy marked 25 years of his involvement in the oil industry. Production in Bóbrka and the surrounding area was around 30,000 tons of crude oil. A special medal was struck for the occasion with the words, "Creator of the oil industry - 25 years of work." The ceremony took place July 31, 1878, in Chorkow. Józef Kraszewski, a well-known novelist of society presented the medal and in a cordial speech praised Ignacy for his contribution to Polish society and the economy.
Before his death in the beginning of 1882 as a result of pneumonia, Ignacy was given credit for deepening the wells and providing geological research of the Podkarpackie region by the Galician local government. Four years after his death, a discovery of crude oil was made in Wietrzno, a small village south of Bóbrka. It freely flowed around 1,000 barrels a day, or around 140 tons.
In 1888, production started in the nearby village of Równe. In 1900, a well at a depth of 3,034 feet hit at the village of Rogi, flowed 600 tons of crude oil daily. In 1887, a nearly nine-mile pipeline was built from the town of Wietrzno, through Zrecin, to Krosno. There, a railroad station collected and transported the oil from the area. In 1890, the yearly production from the Galicia region surpassed 91,000 tons - Bóbrka reaching 8,000 tons. Nearby wells brought forth refineries in the towns of Chorkow (1865), Targowiska (1890), Jedlicze (1902) and Dukla (1880).
The oil industry, in 20 years time, changed the countryside. Kazimierz Chledowski writes in his book, Notable Records, "The area is lofty, there is nearly nothing to be recognized. Oil production is in the area, series of pyramid shaped derricks standing here and elsewhere, long bands, one after another, showing from afar those tanks of oil, which was found at the depths of 500 to 700 meters (1,640 to 2,296 feet) under the surface. In the towns of Potok and Krosno enormous reservoirs for oil are being built, connected by long pipelines to the wells."
Drilling for oil and its processing brought forth advancement in education and culture for the localities. In 1876, Honorata Lukasiewicz, Ignacy's wife, operated in Chorkow a school for making lace fabric. At the year's end, there was an enrollment of several dozen girls from the area. A group of workers at the refinery in Chorkow founded a village library and reading room for people of the area. Lectures and organized talks were frequent.
In 1874, when crude oil production was still mainly concentrated in the Bóbrka area, the production and offshoots employed around 11,809 workers. As technical advancement grew, the employment numbers fell. In 1886, the oil pits of the Galicia area employed only 2,917 workers. But in 1906, when output leaped to nearly 1.5 million tons, employment in the oil fields of the Galician area rose to 6,646 workers. In 1909, Galicia production reached 2,053,100 tons; a record that was never broken: 1910 reached 1,762,000 tons, and 1913, 1,071,000 tons of rock oil.
Contact Tony Ryba at: 242 Dupont St., Johnstown, PA 15902.
Contact the Ignacy Lukasiewicz Memorial Museum of Oil Industry at Bóbrka: 38-458 Chorkówka, woj. podkarpackie, Bóbrka, Poland; phone: (013) 4333-489 or (013) 4333-478; e-mail: email@example.com website: www.geo.uw.edu.pl/BOBRKA/index.htm