The First World Petroleum Congress 1933

The idea of a Congress is believed to have been considered just the year before in 1932 when the worldwide Depression was in force. It was therefore quite surprising that over 244 learned papers (covering all phases of the petroleum industry) were submitted for the July event.

The keynote address by Sir John Cadman, G.C.M.G.., D.Sc., (one of the honorary Vice Presidents) was held in the venerable Royal Institution Lecture Theatre, London, U.K., July 21. Cadman remarked that he was in the shadow of two former “greats” who had lectured from that same experimental table. Davy (miners’ safety lamp) and Faraday (he studied gas from cracked oil).

Following are some highlights of his paper:

The reflection method of geophysics had been recently introduced and examples of its value were shown from Middle East exploration.

Unit operations were advocated while gas conservation was discussed using both static and dynamic bottom-hole pressures, two recent innovations. The gas content of reservoir crude could only be determined from bottom hole samples. The most efficient flow results were a function of rates of production.

The goal of efficiency by returning fuel oil to the reservoirs, thus aiding conservation and avoiding waste.

Review of natural gas under various headings, including helium and carbon black. Conversion of natural gas into liquid fuel by hydrolysis was supposed to yield a form of benzene.

“Motor spirit” (gasoline) was by 1933 the most important product of petroleum. Tetraethyl lead was coming into use as a valuable additive. Kerosene (for lamps) in 1880 had taken 75% of the market but it had dropped to 5% by 1930. One might recall that motor spirit back in 1880 was burned as a fuel under the boilers.

Emulsions and corrosion were both noted as the worst menaces (1931 losses due to corrosion: $125 million). Industry hinted that they knew that the problem was an electro-chemical phenomenon which was being researched.

Cadman concluded by stating the oil industry “is fully alive to its own peculiar problems”. By applying scientific principles to every aspect of activity..... “an organized and effective scientific personnel” is required.

So we today need not be all that contemptuous of the Congress’ 1933 efforts.....they were on the right track.

Other outcomes from the Congress:

  • The Schlumberger Brothers had been doing “electrical coring” in Rumania, 1930-31, and they were already obtaining answers about potential and resistivity of the well bores they were investigating. They also were working on a Schlumberger dip meter (deviation).
  • Conversion of coal in Scottish shale into “motor spirit” was already advanced in the U.K. but did not change the need for imports.
  • “The industrial application of a new process needs the willing cooperation of all parties and technologies” but with great secrecy surrounding patented processes, this statement was really wishful thinking.

The most important resolution passed at the First Congress, without debate, would ensure continuity of the Congress ..... “so valuable in many respects, that its existence should be perpetuated and should be held triennially ". This promise would be kept but World War II intervened so that the Third Congress would not be held until 1951. The Second for which the author has been unable to locate any records took place in Paris in 1937. After some indifference the cycle began in 1955 and it continues to the present, a tribute to international cooperation.



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