May 2016 
Mr. Mungo Goes to Yale
Our Business Development Manager, David Mungo, was just accepted into the MBA program at Yale's School of Management, which, if you've known David like we have, is about as much of a shock as the sun rising in the east or the grass coming up green. As far as we can tell, David doesn't really learn things--he absorbs them.  When he began work at StratoChem in 2011, he was fresh out of a program in Arabic and history--nothing geoscientific about it.  Now, you could be forgiven for thinking he was a professional geochemist.

In the five years since he joined StratoChem, David has been instrumental in helping us expand into the U.S. market.  He's overseen marketing initiatives that have transformed the way we approach the industry, and shown new clients around the world how StratoChem's geochemical solutions can make the search for energy more affordable, accurate, and rapid.  You could forgive him for having an ego--except he doesn't.  Somehow all that talent, intelligence, charisma, and potential shipped without the slightest hint of arrogance.

David will always be a part of the StratoChem family, and he will doubtless continue to work with us on various projects.  We would wish him the best of luck with his studies, but we don't think he'll need it.

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Mummies, Medicine, and Medieval Napalm: Petroleum Before Big Oil
by Hunter C. Eden

Quick: which of these is oldest?

1)  The Roman Empire.

2) Alexander the Great.

3) The Pyramids.

4) The hydrocarbon industry.

If you said "the Pyramids," I'm afraid you're wrong (though we're glad Egypt is on your mind).  The answer is, of course, the hydrocarbon industry.  Human beings have been using petroleum products in one form or another for at least 40,000 years, with archaeological evidence indicating that Neanderthals glued tools together with pitch.  "But that's not really an  industry ," you say. "That's a few cave men. Where are the wells? Where are the permits? Where's everything that makes the upstream industry flow?"  To answer that question, we need to jump ahead a few millennia--though not as many as you might expect.

The Ancient World: Embalm, Baby, Embalm

The earliest large-scale use of petroleum was--not surprisingly--seen in the Middle East.  Asphalt was used for mortar in Mesopotamia as far back as the 5000s B.C. in Sumerian Uruk, that continued in Babylon and Assyria.  It was also used as a sealant on boats and a fixative for jewelry and tools.  Samson's use of the jawbone of a donkey to strike down his Philistine enemies in the Biblical Book of Judges refers to a special kind of ancient sickle: the mandible of a large mammal with the teeth replaced by obsidian blades, glued in with asphalt.

It didn't take long for Egyptians to follow.  About 4,500 years before StratoChem, asphalt mortar was used to construct parts of the Great Pyramid at Giza, and it was such a vital part of the embalming process that the very English word, "mummy" comes from the ancient Persian  moom-- "bitumen," which came into Arabic as momia' . Beyond construction and preservation, the ancient Egyptians used oil to create the distinctive black eyeliner seen in their paintings.  The Old Testament even refers to the basket that carried Moses down the Nile as having been waterproofed with asphalt.

Ramses the Great: this afterlife brought to you by oil and gas (photo by TuthmosisIII).

Ancient Persians were well aware of their country's hydrocarbon riches, where natural gas seeps may have been used to fuel the "eternal fires" of Zoroastrian temples and ancient Iranian physicians prescribed it for skin diseases.  Herodotus, the great Greek historian of the 400s BC, described organized Persian oil production at Ardericca in modern-day Iraq, drawn up bucket by bucket by teams of men from wells.  

One of the world's first oil wells, complete with roughnecks.

These weren't really oil wells as we think of them--those would have to wait seven centuries, to be invented by engineers during China's Jin Dynasty (in 347 AD).  Made from bamboo, with a primitive drill bit hanging from a thick rope, these early wells T.D.'ed at 800 feet--which is pretty impressive, considering they were operated by muscle alone.

The Middle Ages: Burning and Pillaging--the Scientific Way

While the first direct reference to the use of petroleum in warfare comes from 480 BC, when the Persians used it to set their arrows alight for an attack on Athens, it was the Greeks themselves (or rather, Greek-speaking Byzantines) who turned its use in battle into a gruesome art-form.  So-called "Greek fire" was a chemical weapon that functioned a lot like modern napalm: an unquenchable, sticky fire.  While nobody's entirely sure of the recipe, most sources reference "naphtha" as the most important ingredient.  "Naphtha" was a Greek term for oil derived from Persian " naft " and surviving in Russian as "neft'" (as in, "Gazprom Neft").

A Byzantine fire ship. Just wait until the wind shifts.

What nobody doubts is the terrible devastation that Greek fire caused, devouring soldiers inside their armor.  The Byzantines repulsed several Arab invasions by using it to set fire to ships while still on the water.  The Arabs, not to be outdone, used it against the Crusaders, and the Crusaders brought it home to use in Europe.  Such was the power of Greek fire that the Byzantines believed it to be a gift from God to the Emperor Constantine--a weapon of divine punishment against one's foes.

As darkly ingenious as the substance itself were the ways medieval commanders devised for getting it where it needed to be: all over your enemies.  The Byzantines made primitive flamethrowers from bronze siphons that they sometimes mounted on ships (though these could backfire spectacularly if the wind changed course).  These could also be wielded by hand.  The Abbasid Caliphs had special regiments of "naffatun" who wore protective suits and hurled bronze grenades of Greek fire at their foes.  Nor did the terrible fascination of Greek fire end with the Middle Ages; as late as the American Civil War (1861-65), Abraham Lincoln had to reject a proposal for its use against Confederate forces.

A cheirosiphon--possibly the world's first flamethrower.

Medieval petroleum use wasn't all burning people, of course.  The Persian doctor Rhazes (or more properly, Muhammad Ibn Zakariya Ar'Razi) discovered how to distill oil into kerosene for use in lamps, a process that ultimately made its way to Europe. Moorish Spain featured extensive and advanced petroleum-fueled lighting.  The first production permit (in Arabic) appeared in the early Middle Ages in Baku, Azerbaijan, and Marco Polo noted its use as a balm for camels suffering from mange on the Silk Road. 

Rhazes with an alembic of oil, treating a patient. The fact that he was a Persian physician rather than a European monk seems to have been lost on the illustrator of this medieval treatise.

It's a testament to our inventiveness as a species that we found so many uses for oil in a time before industrialization.  But here at StratoChem, we're glad that geochemistry has taken a more peaceful turn over the last thousand years.

New Worlds

When European explorers arrived in the Americas, they found land with as much black gold as the conventional kind--and natives who had been using it for thousands of years.  Just like in the Old World, petroleum was used to glue tools together, and as a medicine.  North American Indians also used it as a war paint, and it was used to color the bones of the dead in some pre-Columbian Mexican cultures.  Oil usage is best known archaeologically from California, where the Chumash tribe used it to waterproof their boats and baskets just like ancient Middle Easterners did. British explorer Sir Walter Raleigh saw tribes in Trinidad harvesting pitch from naturally occurring lakes when he visited the island in 1595--they even showed him how to better seal his ships with it.

A Seneca woman in traditional dress.

But lastly, and perhaps most famously, we come to the Seneca Indians.  The Seneca were famous for selling petroleum collected from seeps as a tonic and medicine to white settlers.  In fact, the connection was so firm that it was called "Seneca Oil," and was marketed as a cure for diphtheria (which it wasn't--at all).  The Seneca were part of the Iroquois League, a great confederation of tribes based in modern-day New York State, but with territory extending into Pennsylvania, where the Seneca held sway and where, many years after the first Indians noticed the black substance that would come to be so associated with them, some guy named Drake drilled the first modern oil well. Maybe you've heard of him.