Finding Oil


Finding Oil

The Nature of Petroleum Geology, 1859-1920

Brian Frehner

248 pages
34 illustrations


October 2011


$50.00 Add to Cart

December 2016


$25.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

October 2011


$25.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

Published in Cooperation with the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies, Southern Methodist University.

Oil has made fortunes, caused wars, and shaped nations. Accordingly, no one questions the idea that the quest for oil is a quest for power. The question we should ask, Finding Oil suggests, is what kind of power prospectors have wanted. This book revises oil’s early history by exploring the incredibly varied stories of the men who pitted themselves against nature to unleash the power of oil.
Brian Frehner shows how, despite the towering presence of a figure like John D. Rockefeller as a quintessential “oil man,” prospectors were a diverse lot who saw themselves, their interests, and their relationships with nature in profoundly different ways. He traces their various pursuits of power from 1859 to 1920 as a struggle for cultural, intellectual, and professional authority, over both nature and their peers. Here we see how some saw power as the work they did exploring and drilling into landscapes, while others saw it in the intellectual work of explaining how and where oil accumulated. Charting the intersection of human and natural history, their story traces the ever-evolving relationship between science and industry and reveals the unsuspected role geology played in shaping our understanding of the history of oil.

Author Bio

Brian Frehner is an assistant professor of history at Oklahoma State University. He received a Bill and Rita Clements Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship for the Study of Southwestern America in 2004–5 and is the coeditor of Indians and Energy: Exploitation and Opportunity in the American Southwest.


"Effectively illustrated and thoroughly footnoted, with an extensive bibliography and a complete index, the book provides an intelligent readership with an appreciation for the temporal and technical aspects of early petroleum geology."—W. C. Peters, CHOICE

"As oil became more difficult, more expensive, and riskier to find, investments in the training and employment of professional geologists made economic sense to practical oil men bent on creating global scientific knowledge of the best places to explore. Finding Oil is an excellent introduction to this fascinating history."—Joseph A. Pratt, Journal of American History

"Finding Oil deserves a secure place on the bookshelves of oil history scholars and buffs. But it should also appeal to anyone interested in the history of the natural sciences, the relationship between nature and culture, and the intersections between business, technology, and the environment."—Tyler Priest, Annals of Wyoming

“Elegant, thoughtful. . . . Intelligent, well-written. . . . [Frehner] provides a detailed case study of the transition from local, contingent, traditional ways of knowing nature to universal scientific and managerial knowledge in the early twentieth century.”—Kathryn Morse, Pacific Historical Review

"[Finding Oil] expands considerably our understanding of oil development in the southern plains."—Brian C. Black, Journal of Southern History

"Frehner has found a story worth telling and has told it well."—John W. Stockwell Jr., Leading Edge

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations



Part 1. Local Knowledge

1. Vernacular Authority in the Oil Field

2. Collaborative Authority: Nineteenth-Century Foundations of Petroleum Geology

Part 2. Contested Knowledge

3. Shared Authority: Practical Oil Men and Professional Geologists

4. Institutional Authority: Field Work, Universities, and Surveys

Part 3. Appropriated Knowledge

5. Geology Organized: Henry L. Doherty's Technological System






2012 Hal K. Rothman Book Prize from the Western History Association

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