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> Journey in the History of the Black Oil in Romania Issue: 2011-2 Section: University



Silvia Trandafir



Henry Berenger, the ambassador of France in the United States of America (1926 – 1927), wrote in a diplomatic note regarding the Western Europe and Asia Minor in the future: domination of the seas by oil, domination of air by gas… the nation which owns that invaluable fuel will get billions.

Appreciated by the economists who establish the power depending on the number of transactions with oil products, criticized by sociologists, in the name of physical and moral protection of environment, the oil, this “black gold” of Terra, dominates the economy and the civilization nowadays.

Formed under the earth’s crust or on the bottom of the seas, it has mobilized so many energies for centuries and revolutionized the techniques of processing and transport, constituting a remarkable wealth of many states and finally winning the competition with coal.

Oil is called “the black gold” for its qualities, its usage being important along history, appearing everywhere, multiple and universal, eternal and mysterious. Oil is an international political factor, indispensable for the modern economic life.



Oil is a complex mixture, formed from gaseous, liquid and solid hydrocarbons, organic compounds with oxygen (phenols, fatty acids), with sulphur, (mercaptans, thiophene), with nitrogen (quinoline). In hydrocarbons, saturated acyclic hydrocarbons (alkanes or paraffin), saturated cyclic hydrocarbons (cycloparaffins or naphthenes) and aromatic hydrocarbons can be found.

It is a viscous liquid, having a specific odour, varied colour from brown to black or green, lower density than salted water, it is inflammable, insoluble in water.



There are two theories regarding the origins of oil: the inorganic theory and the organic theory.

The inorganic theory, formulated by M. Berthelot (1827-19070 and asserted by D. I. Mendeleev (1834-1907), declared that oil was formed in the depth of the earth’s crust. According to this theory, the metallic carbides disintegrate in contact with water, there resulting acetylene, methane and other hydrocarbons. The pressure and the temperature inside the earth take action and, in the presence of the natural catalysts, hydrocarbons form the oil. The famous chemist Mendeleev, who is the author of the periodic table, asserts that oil is a primordial substance, being found within the planet, and it erupts as a volcano’s magma. His theory is supported by the

Russian academician A. Dmitrievski who says that in the oil-bearing areas, where it was considered that the deposits had been used up, oil was discovered again after a longer period.

Renat Muslimov, the economic counsellor of the president in Tatarstan, declared: “We found two oil-bearing basins on the border between Georgia and Azerbaidjan. They had been productive for more than a century, and then the exploitation was suspended, a because the deposits were used up. Recently, the oil derricks have detected oil again. The things are the same with regard to other oil-bearing fields situated in Carpathian area, but also in the South America”.

The organic theory was proposed by the Russian scientist M. Lomonosov (1711-1765) and it is based on several hypotheses, as:

  • Oil has a vegetal origin, the decomposition of plants producing methane, carbon dioxide and fatty acids;
  • Oil has an animal origin, being produced by the decomposition of microscopic sea animals at high pressure and temperature, in the earth’s crust;
  • Oil has mixed origin, being produced by the decomposition of sea plants and microscopic animals under the action of anaerobic bacteria.



In Romania, the exploitation of oil has a long history. The first attestation dates from the second century and it is mentioned in the archaeological discoveries in Sucidava, Tomis, Histria and Targsorul Vechi, continuing during the following centuries. The evidence is the pottery dating from the 2-nd century until the 16-th century, which has many signs of oil on it.

Until the second half of the 19-th century, the use of oil was restricted to lubricate the wheels of the wagons, to the empirical treatment of the animal diseases and sometimes even for human illness. The writings of the scholar Dimitrie Cantemir and of the prince Alexandru Sutu give proof of that.

The development of the product progresses slowly until 1857, when there are three world premieres, in Romania, in the oil industry:

The first country with oil production, officially registered in the international statistics (275 t);

The first refinery in the world, situated in Lucacesti – Bacau (1840), having rudimentary equipment, similar to that used for obtaining plum brandy in a boiler.

The first city in the world lighted up with lamp oil – Bucharest. In 1856, the brothers Theodor and Marin Mehedinteanu, advised by the chemist Mihai Alexe and helped by the druggist Hege, distilled crude oil and obtained lamp oil. As a consequence of their discovery, they took part in the auction for the street illumination in Bucharest, their offer being accepted. Therefore, since the 1st of April 1857, Bucharest was lighted up with lamp oil, becoming the first city in the world using such a product for public illumination.

In 1857, the refinery in Ploiesti was put into service and in 1858, a distillery of fuel oil was constructed in Brasov, an important economic, political and cultural centre.

The period between 1858 - 1895 was characterized by a moderate progress of the Romanian industry, and people’s life changed considerably, due to the development of the engine industry. Now, the first motorcars, airplanes, locomotives and steamships appear, consuming more and more gasoline and Diesel oil.

At the beginning of the 20-th century, Romania’s oil production registered a spectacular rise comparing to the memorable year 1857; hence in the year 1900, the volume of the extracted crude oil was 250000t, representing 1,22 % of the world production.

In 1913, the Romanian industry has begun to be endowed with high performance equipments, being situated on the fifth place in the world’s oil production and representing 3.53 % of the whole world’s production. The period is characterized by an affluence of foreign capitals invested massively in the oil industry.

Well – known historians as Jean Jacques Berreby, Rene Sedillot, Francis Delasi, Pierre L`Espagnol de la Tramerye, Cessare Alimenti, Anton Zischa, Edward Word, Edgar Faure, Daniel Durant etc. refer to the oil in Romania in their works, as a rule emphasizing the importance of this wealth and the struggle of the great powers to monopolize it.The advantages of Romanian space, as oil producer, were its geographical position, nearer to the West, comparatively with the other great producers, the high quality of oil (with a content of 15-25 % petrol, 20–30 % lamp oil, 2–8 % oils, 44–56 % residues of fuel oil), and also the facilities of transport means (by sea and on the Danube).

At the beginning of the First World War, the production and the export of oil and oil products decreased severely, recovering only after 1924. The causes were provoked by the country’s general state after the war.

If during the period 1911 – 1920, Romania occupied the second place in Europe (after Russia) and the fifth in the world (after USA, Russia, Mexico, Dutch Indies) with a production of 13152 million tones of oil, in 1935 it registered an yearly production of 8385 million tones, approximately 2 million tones more than the production in 2002, maintaining the second place in Europe and raising on the fourth place in the world (after USA, Russia and Venezuela). The production of petroleum increased continuously, even during the Second World War, attaining 12 million tones in 1965 and reaching the all times` maximum - 15 million tones - in 1977. After 1977, the decline begins. Nowadays, Romania occupies one of the last places in Europe concerning the production of petrochemical products.



We can assert that the geological researches on the presented perimeters have begun, being meant for confirming or infirming their capacity of being exploited. The exploration of the Romanian continental platform started in 1969. The first hydrocarbons were discovered in 1980, and the production started in 1987.

Nowadays, Petrom exploits two sea perimeters, which ensure 18 % of that company’s oil and gas production in Romania.

Also, the Canadian company Sterling Resources explores two perimeters, stipulating the first gas production in 2011 – 2012.



Along time, petroleum has earned its importance, becoming the raw material strictly related to the technical progress in the contemporary world. Today, the oil consumption is superior to extraction. The problem caused by the drain of world’s oil reserves is often discussed. The scientists are searching for a substitute of oil, but it seems that coal could be the only alternative, although it is not as useful as petroleum.



  • Buzatu, Gh. O istorie a petrolului românesc, ediţia a II-a. Casa Editorială DEMIURG, Iaşi, 2009.
  • Ivănuş, Gh., Coloja, M., Ştefănescu, I., Mocuţa, Şt., Stirimin, N. Istoria petrolului din România, Editura AGIR, Bucureşti, 2004.
  • Rizea, M. Petrolul romanesc –De la pionierat la prima coflagratie mondială (in curs de tiparire).