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The History of the USA Harnessing its Natural Resources

The History of the USA Harnessing its Natural Resources

Our Sales Director, Andy Venn, talks about the USA’s long history of working with their landscape and making use of their wealth of natural resources.

 

The USA is a vast and varied landscape with a wealth of natural resources.  The country has a long history of harnessing its resources to improve the lives of its citizens. Some have a real historic significance, like the gold rush’s impact on westward expansion, and some are set to make history for our future generations, like the growing renewable energy sector.

 

Gold

It is hard to imagine the USA’s history of natural resources without thinking immediately of the gold rush. In 1848, carpenter James Wilson Marshall found flakes of gold in the American River, at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Thus began the famous gold rush. In the subsequent year, thousands of miners (dubbed “The 49ers”) travelled to the area to mine for gold and find their fortune. The population swelled by around 100,000 people, leading to the establishment of the state of California in 1850 – the 31st state in the union. The gold rush lasted until the mid-1850s and during this period, miners extracted more than 340 tonnes of gold from the California area.

 

Coal  

Mining for coal precedes the history of the USA, and it has been important to the region for hundreds of years. The Hopi tribe, for example, mined for coal as far back as the 1300s in the area that would become the state of Arizona, long before it was established as a state.

In the mid-1850s, coal mining experienced a boom. Two types of coal were mined in the USA: anthracite, which produced less smoke than burning wood and helped to make city-living cleaner; and bituminous coal (known today as metallurgical coal), which was used in constructing railways and the steel industry. Between the years of 1850 and 1890, in the USA, coal production doubled every 10 years. The peak of coal production, in 1918, saw an output of 615 million tonnes.

 

Oil

The 1850s were not only an important decade for coal, but also for oil. An early example of digging for oil is General Andreas Pico using oil from hand-dug pits in California to fuel oil lamps.

Probably the most significant event early in the USA’s oil industry was the drilling of the Drake Oil Well in 1959. Located in Pennsylvania, many have claimed it was the first commercial oil well in the country. Edwin Drake designed a drilling system using a steam engine and a cable-tool drilling rig to create a well 69.5 feet (21m) deep and extract crude oil. His innovative drilling technology led to a boom in the USA’s oil industry, which went on to inspire cult media like the Oscar-winning film Giant and the popular 1960s’ TV series The Beverly Hillbillies.

In 2018, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that the USA had become the world’s top crude oil producer due to the shale oil boom.

 

Gas

In 1821, William Hart noticed bubbles of gas rising to the top of a creek in Fredonia, New York. He dug a 27-foot (8m) hole, the first gas well in the USA, in order to create a larger flow of gas to the surface. The invention of the Bunsen burner, in 1885, allowed for temperature-regulating flames produced by gas. This invention was the precursor to the modern gas hob and gas boiler.

Shale is a fine sedimentary rock of compacted silt and clay particles, easily broken into thin, parallel layers. Black shale can produce oil and natural gas, trapped in the rock’s pores. Shale formations with significant accumulations of natural gas and/or oil, known as ‘plays’, are found in about 30 states across America. 

A major development in the extraction of natural gas is fracking, a process created in the USA in the 1940s. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a process of directing a combination of liquid materials and sand at a rock layer in order to release the gas inside. The technique has also been developed to help with extracting oil, and has significantly increased the volumes of these resources that can be obtained.

American produces just about all the natural gas that it consumes as a nation. US production of dry natural gas  in 2020 was approx. 33.5 trillion cubic feet, an average of about 91.5 billion cubic feet per day.

 

Nuclear

Pennsylvania has been the home of several innovations in ways that the USA has utilised its natural resources. In 1957, it became home to the country’s first nuclear power station, the Shippingport Atomic Power Station.

By the end of the 20th Century, nuclear power had become one of the largest sources of energy in the country. In 1991, the USA had 111 nuclear power plants in operation, which altogether provided 22% of commercially generated energy. It is hardly surprising that nuclear power features in The Simpsons, which debuted in 1990 – by this time, it had become an enormous industry! 

 

Solar

In recent years, the USA’s energy strategy has shifted significantly towards renewables. Early innovations in solar energy started in 1954, when engineers from Bell Laboratories announced the invention of the first practical silicon solar cell.

A major surge in the popularity of solar energy came in 2003, when President Bush installed a system of solar panels for the White House. The geography of the USA makes it a great site for solar energy. Southern states, like California, Arizona and Kansas, have vast plains suitable for solar farms and are fortunate enough to have long, sunny days. Harnessing the sun’s power, therefore, seems like a no-brainer.

Solar energy has allowed Americans to take energy into their own hands. By installing rooftop panels to their homes and businesses, individuals are able to curb their reliance on fossil fuels and become far more sustainable.

 

Wind

President Bush was not the only president to take a stand when it comes to green energy. The current administration, under President Biden, has made wind energy a real priority.

Onshore wind is already huge. According to the US Dept of Energy 2021 Land-Based Wind Report: “A record 16,836 megawatts (MW) of U.S. wind capacity was installed in 2020, bringing the cumulative total to 121,955 MW. Wind power installations outpaced those in solar power for the first time in several years and represented $24.6 billion of investment. Wind provides more than 10% of electricity in 16 states, and over 30% in Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and North Dakota.”

In comparison, offshore wind is still in its infancy, but President Biden has set a target for the USA to produce 30GW of energy from offshore wind by 2030. The first major milestone in this target is the 800-megawatt Vineyard Wind project, the nation’s first commercial-scale offshore wind farm off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. The site will be made up of 62 wind turbines and will start producing power in 2023 – enough to provide clean energy to over 400,000 homes, reducing carbon emissions by over 1.6 million tonnes per year.

Several other projects, mostly located on the East Coast, are also in their planning and development stages. The leasing of wind energy sites has been accelerated and the New York Bight auctions in February this year broke the record for the most sites to be offered in a single auction, for a combined total of more than $4.37 billion. The offshore wind boom is certainly upon us and the USA is set to be a really exciting place for offshore wind development.

 

FoundOcean and America

FoundOcean first entered the Americas’ market in 1983 and we have had the opportunity to work on some very exciting projects in our time.

In 1988, we provided our specialist grouting services to the Bullwinkle oil platform, located in the Gulf of Mexico. The platform made history as, at the time of construction, it was the third tallest freestanding structure ever built, with a total height of 529m.

As a company, we have a strong relationship with the Americas. We have had offices in the USA for several years and established FoundOcean Inc. in 2013. In 2021, we reached our 80th project in the region. We expect this number to increase significantly as we continue to support the booming offshore energy sector in the Americas.

Myself, our MD, Jim Bell and some other team members have been Stateside, attending two major conferences in the USA. We were excited to attend the 2022 International Partnering Forum (IPF) in Atlantic City in April and OTC in Houston, Texas, in May, to find out more about all the promising projects on the horizon, strengthen our partnerships with many of our existing contacts, and make lots of new ones too!

 

For more information on FoundOcean’s experience and capabilities, contact the UK team on +44 1506 440330, the US team +1 713 425 6326 or email info@foundocean.com.