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Oil

 

Baku sits over one of the world's largest oil deposits.  So, as in Los Angeles, water holes and wells were often naturally polluted by oil and tar. This occasionally resulted in explosions and fire and was a nuisance to one and all. Yet after some simple distillation the resulting kerosene proved to be an alternative to more expensive animal and plant oils for use in lamps.

Soon the by-products of improving distillation methods included lubricants and heavy tar or pitch, which had a number of uses, together with a range of chemicals of interest to early chemists, some used in patent medicines. Thus mineral oil was of increasing economic value and natural seepage was soon insufficient to meet the growing demand. As a result Baku boasts the world's first industrially drilled oilwell, bored in 1846.  It's still here, adjacent to an active, producing, shaft.

 

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The world's first industrially drilled oilwell, bored in 1846 
Nearby is one of hundreds of still active shafts

 

In 1886, forty years after this well was drilled, Karl Benz patented a four-stroke petrol (benzin) engine to automate the world's first self-powered vehicle (automobile) to go into series production.  Before this 'horseless-carriages' were playthings for the rich or backyard inventors, and in some towns had to be led by a servant, walking, with a red flag, to warn the public - and to avoid scaring the real horses.

Much of the fuel for these newfangled vehicles in Europe came from Baku.

Automobile development was rapid and with this came development of the fuel.  The full impact of early 20th century science was brought to bear. In institutions and laboratories from Moscow to Paris; Manchester to Chicago: ethane, methane, propane and benzene were identified; knocking factors (octane ratings) were codified; empowering additives, like tetraethyl lead, were developed. In increasingly complex 'oil refineries' mineral oil was cracked and reformed to increase the yields of various grades of fuels and lubricants.  Soon the wealthy drove in limousines on new smoother roads, surface sealed with bitumen. In the United States, Rockefeller, already dominating the lamp oil market with Standard Oil, would become the World's richest man.

Just fifteen years after Benz's invention the Wright Bothers powered their first 'Flyer' with a lightweight petrol engine of their own design, leading to another rush of innovation.  Another seven years later, in 1908, Henry Ford would begin to mass-produce the first 'peoples' car' (automobile), the Model T.  Meanwhile petroleum powered internal combustion engines would spin dynamos for industrial and domestic electric lights and the propellers of speed boats; launches; and fishing boats. 

Then in 1914 came the Great War.  Fighter aircraft, bombers, submarines and tanks had all become possible as the refining of mineral oil expanded in complexity; scope; and scale.  After the Great War, in which oil enabled the greatest slaughter of human life the planet had yet seen, it became central to world power-politics and commercially became known as: 'black gold'. 

So Baku, that produced about 15% of global oil production, was the new Eldorado, most of it controlled by British companies. Meanwhile, at the end of 1917, the Bolsheviks had lost control of the Grozny oilfields to the White Army (see below) and Baku became their sole source of oil.  An alarmed Vladimir Lenin asserted in one of his speeches that: 'Soviet Russia can't survive without Baku oil'.

In 1939 a Second World War followed the First and Baku became the life blood of the Russian invasion of Poland, in collusion with Germany.  Hitler's perfidy became clear to Stalin when in July 1942 Germany and its allies (the 3rd Romanian Army) quickly overran all the Caucuses oil fields, in Chechnya and Baku. 

Ultimately Russia under Stalin, with US and British Imperial allies would be victorious over Germany.  More of that later in Georgia (below), where we visited Stalin's birthplace.

Thus today, oil, that was at the beginning of the 20th century little more than a nuisance, is a driving force in global power politics. 

When one stands on the shoreline in Baku, oil derricks dot the Caspian Sea as far as the eye can see and around the flats of the city donkey pumps see-saw, bringing up the 'black gold'. The Baku air has a distinctly oily aroma and a web of pipelines carry off the harvest to help sate Europe's endless thirst for oil and gas: to provide energy and in so doing to turn it into carbon dioxide.

In 2018 27.9 million barrels of oil were transported through the Azerbaijani part of the Baku-Supsa pipeline alone. 

 


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Travel

The United Kingdom

 

 

 

On the surface London seems quite like Australia.  Walking about the streets; buying meals; travelling on public transport; staying in hotels; watching TV; going to a play; visiting friends; shopping; going to the movies in London seems mundane compared to travel to most other countries.  Signs are in English; most people speak a version of our language, depending on their region of origin. Electricity is the same and we drive on the same side or the street.  

But look as you might, nowhere in Australia is really like London.

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Fiction, Recollections & News

The Secret

The Secret

By Richard McKie

 

 Download PDF (for e-readers)

 

Lansing Michigan was a fine place to grow up, she guessed.  It was nice, and safe.

Her dad worked in the Michigan State Government and her mum stayed home. They weren’t rich but they were comfortable. Their new house was big, the nicest they had lived in and it was in a really good area. 

She had never been overseas, unless you count nearby Canada, and that was mainly on trips to Niagara Falls, usually when one of Mum’s sisters came to stay. When they passed through Sarnia, into Canada, Dad would always say "Yea! Overseas again!". It was about his only joke.

Sometimes they went through Detroit. But after what had happened there the last time she shut that out of her consciousness. No wonder she is timid and takes fright easily. Now if a friend even seemed to be driving in that direction she would go into the foetal position and shut-down.

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Opinions and Philosophy

The Transit of Venus

 

 

On Wednesday 6th June, 2012 in Eastern Australia and New Zealand (as well Pacific islands across to Alaska) Venus was seen to pass between the Earth and the Sun; appearing as a small circular spot crossing the sun’s disc; for around six and a half hours.

This is a very rare astronomical event that has been the cause of great change to our world.

This is not because, as the astrologers would have it, that human events are governed or predicted by the disposition of the stars or planets.  It is because the event has served to significantly advance scientific knowledge and our understanding of the Universe.

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