Today pipelines play a prominent role in the oil industry – whether it’s the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System that has now transported around 16 million barrels of oil since its construction in 1973, or the recently debated expansion of the Keystone Pipeline within the United States. Simply said, it’s hard to imagine the industry without them.
Believe it or not though, the concept came to be all the way back in the mid-19th century. While most of the country was still reeling in the aftermath of the American Civil War, one oil worker in Pennsylvania was about to do something brilliant that would change his industry forever. Samuel Van Syckle was about to construct the world’s first successful oil pipeline.
At the time, oil was traditionally transported by wagons directed by drivers called “teamsters”. Prices to transport were relatively high and by the time Samuel Van Syckle entered the industry, there was a need for change.
Another motiving factor, however, was the discovering of the Pithole, a crude oil field located in what was at the time a secluded part in northwestern Pennsylvania – an area covered in hills and wilderness.
With the help of an engineer, William Snow, construction on the pipeline commenced. Made out of 2 inch iron piping, it was 5 miles long, beginning at the crude oil site, and concluding at the railroad station. Portion of the pipeline was actually buried 2 feet underground – partly an attempt to hide it from the teamsters who were still angry that their crude oil transportation monopoly was starting to unravel. At one point, tensions ran so high that Van Syckle had to task guards to protect the pipeline from teamster sabotage.
By the time the pipeline was at its fullest potential, it shipped about 2,500 barrels within a one-day span – an impressive feat at the time. In the years following the construction of Van Syckle’s line, pipelines were being constructed at a relatively high rate.
Since Van Syckle’s pipeline, much has changed – but the concept largely remains the same. Just as the 1865 pipeline ran through rough terrain and wilderness, so do today’s – even though they’re built on a larger scale, often times requiring the use of heavier construction equipment.
To guard against any damage the transportation of heavy equipment can have on environmentally sensitive areas, the use of timber construction mats can help construction crews significantly. For the foreseeable future, the construction of new pipelines will remain a top priority in the industry – something that began all the way back in 1865.