Nitroglycerin in the Pennsylvania oil fields
November 5, 2009 5:51 PM   Subscribe

From The Titusville Morning Herald of June 17, 1866, "Our attention has been called to a series of experiments that have been made in the wells of various localities by Col. Roberts, with his newly patented torpedo. ... The torpedo... is lowered into the well, down to the spot, as near as can be ascertained, where it is necessary to explode it. ... The object of the torpedo is to clean out all the deposits at the bottom of the well."
In the western Pennsylvania oilfields of the second half of the 1800s, "shooters" were men who set off nitroglycerin charges in wells to get the oil flowing again. Tales of Destruction relates stories and legends of this absurdly hazardous job. Additional notes here, in Samuel Pees's Oil History. (Previously)
posted by tss (4 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This whole thing sounds like a lead-in to an Achewood story arc.
posted by Avenger at 6:16 PM on November 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

They don't do this anymore. Instead, they use water, carrying sand and a variety of chemicals (some toxic, the recipes are secret), pumped at high pressure into the hole to break apart the rock strata and release oil and natural gas. Explosions are no longer a problem, but that doesn't mean the process is benign. Gas migrations and chemical spills are a problem, in this case in northeastern Pennsylvania.
posted by tommyD at 3:54 AM on November 6, 2009

Or I should say, explosions are less of a problem. Occasionally, gas collects in a water well or a basement, then a water pump or furnace kicks on...
posted by tommyD at 4:51 AM on November 6, 2009

I've always been struck by the innovative nature of humanity in eras past. The insightful problem solving, the inventive contraptions, etc. And then this - a story about lowering explosives down a well full of combustables - reminds me how idiotic we can be.
posted by bigbluepig at 7:03 AM on November 6, 2009

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