WorldWide Drilling Resource

12 SEPTEMBER 2022 WorldWide Drilling Resource® Why Oil Comes in 42-Gallon Barrels Compiled by Amy White, Associate Editor, WorldWide Drilling Resource® More than 100 years have passed since oil was transported in actual barrels, but the industry’s use of this standard unit of measurement dates back to the mid-1800s. Although it may seem like an odd measurement considering the prevalence of industrial 55-gallon drums today, in earlier days, 42-gallon barrels were common-size containers for holding commodities such as wine, whiskey, soap, molasses, butter, and much more. When the first oil boom took place in Titusville, Pennsylvania, in the mid-19th century, workers realized they had a new situation on their hands: where to put all the oil. Due to necessity, they began collecting oil in all sorts of barrels, tubs, and jars. With so much oil being drilled, producers needed a consistent and economical way to transport their product. The most efficient means of transporting liquid at the time was in watertight wooden barrels made by skilled tradesmen called tight coopers. Although barrels came in various sizes, the most common was the 42-gallon tierce. Larger wooden casks proved to be unmanageable, and smaller containers were less profitable. Once filled with oil, the tierce weighed more than 300 pounds, but could be rolled by one or two men. It could also be stamped with a brand and information about its contents. A barge or railroad flatcar could transport 20 barrels at a time. By 1866, the 42-gallon tierce was determined to be just the right size for oil transport. In 1872, the Petroleum Producers Association made it official by adopting this barrel as the standard for oil. The U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Bureau of Mines followed in 1882. The size went on to become a staple of oil transportation infrastructure. Although the barrel-making process had previously been a hand craft, it became a more mechanized endeavor as oil drilling began to take off. As more and more derricks went up in Pennsylvania, cooperages began popping up along with them to supply barrels for the product. Roads became increasingly crowded with horse-drawn wagons pulling up to eight barrels of oil at a time to the nearest railroad station or dock. Rough terrain and muddy roads compounded the problem. These issues led to construction of the first oil pipelines in the U.S., which were made out of wood. By the early 1880s, the first long-distance pipelines had been installed in the Northeast, and oil tankers began to be permitted through the Suez Canal, pioneering the modern shipping industry. Today, oil is transported in tankers which can carry as many as four million barrels at a time. With global oil demand projected to reach approximately 99 million barrels per day in 2022, this commodity makes up a large portion of international cargo. Although it comes in different measurements, such as kiloliters in Japan, or metric tons in Canada, when trading, these units are still converted to the 42-gallon barrel or “bbl” standard set in the 1800s after the first oil boom in the U.S. A worker crafts a 42-gallon barrel. Images courtesy of the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. G&O By the 1860s, barges were carrying barrels of oil down the Allegheny River to Pittsburgh to be refined into kerosene for lamps. Time for a Little Fun! August Puzzle Solution: MESSAGE DEPOSIT CABINET OTTOMAN E P O P S A V S O C Q H E H D T __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ P O S I F Q N B E S N T V B D D T R __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ Reveal each word in the sentence by choosing either the letter before or after the letter shown above each blank line. For example, on the first letter E, the answer is either D or F. Win a prize! Send completed puzzle to: WWDR PO Box 660 Bonifay, FL 32425 fax: 850-547-0329 or e-mail: