Our region's Marcellus Shale formation is believed to contain the world's second largest source of natural gas. Recently, hydraulic fracturing has made it possible to extract the gas from the shale. There is massive profit to be made from our region's rich abundance of fossil fuels, much like Pennsylvania's last great petroleum boom of the 1800s.
In the mid-1800s homes were lit by lamps fueled with whale oil. Meanwhile our neighbors around Oil Creek collected a foul-smelling black slick from their salt wells and sloshed around in the rock oil that oozed from natural springs, seep sites and floated atop the creeks. Apart from its use as a medicinal salve and lubricant no one knew what to do with it. What they were sloshing around in and rubbing on their ailments, however, turned out to be the highest quality oil in the world: Pennsylvania Grade A crude.
This abundance of oil got the attention of entrepreneurs who began experimenting with ways to refine the crude into lamp oil. But it was difficult to obtain in large, steady quantities. Early on, oil was collected by skimming it from the water's surface. There was no technology for extracting it from underground until Edwin Drake and William Smith successfully drilled the world's first oil well in 1859 near Titusville, north of Pittsburgh. The bonanza hit! The oil rush had begun! Overnight, the world descended on Western Pennsylvania. The region swelled with speculators, and in 1865 a new town, Pithole City, sprang up. Oil companies bought any available land they could find, and farmers leased out their farms. To move the oil to market, the world's first oil pipelines were laid and the first oil refineries were built. It was the birth of the oil industry.
What happened to Pithole City? At its peak Pithole was home to more than 15,000 people and 57 hotels. It existed for only 500 days.