Finding Oil


Finding Oil

The Nature of Petroleum Geology, 1859-1920

Brian Frehner

248 pages
30 photographs, 4 illustrations


December 2016


$25.00 Add to Cart

October 2011


$50.00 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.

Because oil has made fortunes, caused wars, and shaped nations, no one questions the assertion that the quest for oil is a quest for power. The question we should ask, Finding Oil suggests, is rather 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. Charting the intersection between human and natural history, their stories trace the ever-evolving relationship between science and industry and reveal the unexpected role geology played in shaping our understanding of the history of oil.

Author Bio

Brian Frehner is an associate professor of history at Oklahoma State University. He is the coeditor of Indians and Energy: Exploitation and Opportunity in the American Southwest.


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

"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

"Approachable and well-written."—Jordan P. Howell, Journal of Historical Geography

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

"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

"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

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

Also of Interest