The history of crude oil and natural gas is a history of technological innovation. Until recently the innovation supported crude oil and natural gas. Now, it challenges it, causing structural changes in the crude oil and natural gas markets.
Originally, crude oil was only used for lighting. This changed following the invention of the internal combustion engine, which outperformed steam engine in power, range and ease of operation and maintenance, and the invention of the conveyor belt, which made it possible to mass-produce the internal combustion engine at a price which was affordable to the masses. Not much later, crude oil became the transportation fuel of choice. The horse drawn carriage was replaced by the car; the locomotive by the diesel train; the steamship by the motor vessel; and the zeppelin by the airplane.
For a long time, natural gas was an unwanted by-product from crude oil production, and typically burned off (flared) at the production site. That was until, again, technological innovation made utilization of the benefits in natural gas possible. Improvements in pipeline technology made it possible to use natural gas as a feedstock for the chemicals industry, and as fuel for home heating, cooking and power generation. Later on, LNG technology improvements greatly expanded the market for natural gas and made it truly global.
Technological innovation was therefore not only behind the first great energy revolution—from wood to coal—during the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th century, but also behind the second great energy revolution—from coal to crude oil and natural gas—during the first half of the 20th century.
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