[FOUNTAIN]Oil, history and politics do mix

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[FOUNTAIN]Oil, history and politics do mix

In the late 19th century, petroleum began to take on importance in human society. At first, kerosene and paraffin, used as light sources, were the most important such products. But gasoline began to dominate when inventors brought us automobiles and electric lights and the two world wars erupted. Since then, the use of oil has expanded. The status of coal-producing countries, which formerly had great influence in the world's economy and politics, was now lower. Sayings such as "The history is written in petroleum rather than ink," and "Petroleum and international politics flow in the same direction," were self-evidently true.

Edwin L. Drake (1819-1880) gave birth to the modern petroleum industry by mass-producing petroleum in Pennsylvania in 1859. Since then, the United States continued its domestic oil exploration and expanded its market to Europe. Exxon, the former Standard Oil Company of Ohio, was a part of the petroleum empire founded by John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937).

Russia brought a change to the petroleum market that had been dominated by the United States and Great Britain. After Russia struck oil in the Baku area, it launched Asian petroleum on the global market. In 1917, the petroleum output of Russia accounted for 15 percent of the world's production.

The family of Alfred B. Nobel, the dynamite inventor who established the Nobel prizes, held a 33-percent interest in the Baku oil field. Shell, a company founded jointly by Dutch and British investors, also held some stakes in the Baku oil industry. Exxon was not a participant there.

During the Bolshevik Revolution, Exxon made a secret deal with the Nobel family to purchase its stake for $11.5 million. But the Bolsheviks did not allow the deal, and nationalized the Baku oil field.

After World War II, non-oil-producing countries like Germany, France and Japan began to compete to secure petroleum resources. Eni of Italy, Elf-ERAP of France and Deminex of Germany actively exploited oil and gas fields at the bottom of the sea or in other countries. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the petroleum industry faced another upheaval. Several countries began to compete for the right to exploit oil and natural gas fields in the Sakhalin, Caspian Sea and the Arctic Ocean.

On Friday, we broke ground for the construction of a facility to collect gas from our first natural gas field. Though the field will yield only a small amount, 400,000 metric tons, of natural gas every year for the next 10 years, I hope it will make Koreans more interested in energy development.

The writer is a JoongAng Ilbo editorial writer.

by Kim Seok-hwan

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