Oil Would Never Surpass Coal, They Once Said

Siddharth Singh
Dec 3, 2015 · 2 min read

By Siddharth Singh, 3rd December, 2015

John Kemp, an energy analyst at Thompson Reuters, posted a fascinating quiz that revealed how the potential of oil was dismissed in its early days by some very important players in the state and economy.

For instance, the role of oil as a marine fuel was repeatedly dismissed, first by a Naval officer in 1867 who said,

“It appears that the use of petroleum as a fuel for steamers [ships] is hopeless; convenience is against it, comfort is against it, health is against it, economy is against it, and safety is against it. Opposed to these the advantages of the probably not very important reduction in bulk and weight, with their attending economies, cannot prevail.”

Next, by a navy minister who said in 1905,

“The substitution of oil for coal is impossible, because the oil does not exist in this world in sufficient quantities. It must be reckoned only as a most valuable adjunct”

Further, an economist stated that oil would never be as popular as coal, arguing in 1866,

“Petroleum has of late years become the matter of a most extensive trade, and has even been proposed by American inventors for use in marine steam-engine boilers. It is undoubtedly superior to coal for many purposes, and is capable of replacing it. But then what is petroleum but the essence of coal, distilled from it by terrestrial or artificial heat? Its natural supply is far more limited and uncertain than that of coal, it’s price is about 15 pounds per ton already, and an artificial supply can only be had by the distillation of some kind of coal at considerable cost. To extend the use of petroleum, then, is only a new way of pushing the consumption of coal.”

As to who these individuals were, and to respond to the entire 10 question quiz, click here (SPOILER ALERT: This link contains responses in red. Look away from the screen until you cover the red text if you wish to seriously play).

Siddharth is available on Twitter @siddharth3

Culture of Energy

The next great energy transition awaits.

Siddharth Singh

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I write on energy on Business Standard here: http://goo.gl/ngZqVh, and here: www.cultureofenergy.com

Culture of Energy

The next great energy transition awaits.