History of Conventional and Unconventional Oil Technologies - 44th ICOHTEC Meeting @ the 25th ICHSTM, Brazil 2017

Francesco Gerali Announcement
Subject Fields
History of Science, Medicine, and Technology, Business History / Studies, Economic History / Studies, Environmental History / Studies, World History / Studies
Scholars are invited to contribute to two panel sessions on the history of the oil & gas industry
On behalf of the International Committee for the History of Technology and the International Congress on the History of Science, Technology and Medicine
44th ICOHTEC Meeting @ the 25th ICHSTM, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 23-29 July 2017

Organizer: Francesco Gerali, The University of Western Australia/The University of Oklahoma


1. Unconventional History: Sixty years of science and technology in Hydraulic Fracturing
The goal of this session is bringing together practitioners from academia and industry, as well as experts from the civil society to present and discuss the historical development and application of technologies for unconventional gas and oil projects during the past sixty years.
      Humankind has used petroleum for centuries, but modern oil society started only in the 1860s; this timing did not come from lack of interest or knowledge about the potential of oil as fuel, rather because man was still not ‘technologically educated’ to start the process of mass production and consumption of oil. Since the beginning of the oil business it was felt necessary to maximize the performance of the fields and, relying on the limited geological evidence available at the time, early technologists conceived methods to extend the life and enhance the productivity of wells using explosives and steam or acid compounds to remove depositions of paraffin. Those were unconventional methods applied to conventional wells.
      After almost seventy years of ‘standard drilling’, a new technological trajectory in exploration and production was introduced by late 1920s when horizontal drillings were successfully experimented. The inception of hydraulic fracturing technology gained momentum in the United States when, in the 1940s, the relationship between well performance and treatment pressures was theorized. Following years of field-testing and development of an operational procedure, in 1949 the first patent for hydraulic fracturing treatments was issued. Since then, hydraulic fracturing technology has been continuously improved, developed and utilized in numerous countries. But how and to what extent? Since the 2000s, the number of fractured unconventional deposits has started to significantly affect on the total number of wells cultivated in the world. A literature review of the scientific publications from the past twenty years highlights how hydraulic fracturing is almost entirely discussed from political or environmental perspectives. There is a lack of analytic literature on the history of hydraulic fracturing intended as compendium of technologies achieved along the past several decades.
      The study of the history of the oil industry often requires the historian to merge together humanities and science and an understanding of hydraulic fracturing – intended as cumulative process of technology and the creation of a technological system – implying a wealth of knowledge that historians of science, technology and energy do not have so far. The session aims to remove that hindrance and to stimulate new historical research that will increase our understanding of the artifacts, methods and skills that are going to secure for some more decades the energetic abundance at the base of our last two centuries development; and, giving us the necessary time to perfecting alternative energetic resources.


2. The workflow of oil: upstream, midstream, downstream technologies in 19th and 20th century
The historians and industry professionals invited in this session will discuss the dynamics, people, facts and artifacts that along two centuries forged and improved the three rings of the petroleum production chain: upstream, midstream and downstream. The lectures are framed in a national and transnational contest with global outreach, and developed following multidisciplinary trajectories focused on science, technology, politics, economics, and environment.
      Industries do not emerge accidentally; the evolution of oil & gas industry – a multi-faceted, energivorous and expensive technological system – can be compared to a small industrial revolution, whose effects have been felt over a long period of time. The development of a complex production system such as petroleum (crude oil, natural gas, condensates, LNG, and LPG) is not a linear process. It has stages of experimentation, trial and error, disappointments and success that requires large investments and the scholarship of skilled scientists and technologists. Oil in the history of the modern society is often sized just in terms of barrels produced, consumed, or spilled, while historical analyses on subjects like oil exploration, production, refining, and logistics has received limited attention from historians. As consequence, it seems that often oil is almost given for granted ‘in the tank’, with little clue on its production, and past background.
      The western society is partly defined by the concept of ‘knowledge society’ in which development is deemed to follow the application of new ideas and paradigms. Considering the several roles that oil plays in daily life, the production of new scholarship on the history of oil technology bears great scientific relevance in academy and industry.
      The oil & gas industry may be defined a precise mechanical system composed and assembled by unique and irreplaceable parts, and the studies presented in this panel will show how those parts are organized, coordinated and work together. The ultimate goal of the session is to foster the knowledge on the workflow in oil production; that will lead to a better understanding of the scientific and technological challenges experienced during past two centuries by oil industry to feed the complex energy ecosystem of our society.
The deadline to submit your abstract is February 28, 2016. Abstracts have to be accompanied by a one-page resume and sent to francesco.gerali@uwa.au.edu, in copy to fgerali@ou.edu.
Thanks for your attention, I look forward receiving your proposals.
Contact Information
Francesco Gerali, PhD 
Research Assistant,  School of Library and Information Science, The University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK, USA
Honorary Research Fellow, School of Humanities, History Discipline, The University of Western Australia, Crawley, Australia
Contact Email