Petroleum natural seepage in the forest of Bóbrka had been seen for ages but only in 1854 an oil well was set up and the upstream industrial production began. The pioneers of the oil industry and founders ofthe oil field in Bóbrka were Ignacy Łukasiewicz – a quiet and Modest pharmacist; Tytus Trzecieski – a landowner and initiator of establishing the oil field and Karol Klobassa-Zrencki – the owner of the Bóbrka village.
Their cooperation,energy and business-like approach led to setting up the world’s first comprehensive upstream and downstream petroleum company. Before Łukasiewicz tied his life with the oil field in Bóbrka, he had worked in “Pod gwiazdą” (“Undera Star”) pharmacy in Lvov, belonging to Piotr Mikolasch. From 1852, together with Jan Zeh, he made experiments with petroleum. The first attempts at distillation were focused on obtaining Oleum Petrae album, a medicinal preparation.
Later, the assistant pharmacists directed their research towards isolating from petroleum a substance which would be suitable as a fuel for oil lamps.They succeeded in obtaining kerosene fraction, tapped within the temperature range of 200-250°C,devoid of light naphtha and petrol and also separated from heavy hydrocarbons, which are components of technical oils. When he had kerosene, Łukasiewicz commissioned Adam Bratkowski, a Lvovian tinsmith, to construct a lamp which would be suitable for physical and chemical properties of the new product.
For the first time kerosene lamps were lit publicly on 31st July, 1853 in a Lvovian hospital in the Łyczaków borough. The new lighting was used during a successful surgical operation and the date of 31st July, 1853 was recorded in history as a symbolic date of birth of the Polish oil industry.
Soon afterwards, Łukasiewicz left Lvov and settled in Gorlice. There, he became a tenant of a pharmacy and, as Gorlice were located close to the petroliferous (oil bearing) area, he could continue his experiments with crude oil and work on improvement of kerosene lamps.
In 1854 Łukasiewicz was invited by Tytus Trzecieski to visit Bóbrka, where petroleum natural seeps were found; in the 19th century the name of the oil was “rock oil” (Latin: petroleum). Trzecieski suggested establishing an oil company which would start production from the oil reservoir in Bóbrka. The first dug wells (in Polish called: kopanka) to pump the crude oil from were started. In 1855 in the “Wojciech” dug well there was a large inflow of crude oil. As a result, in 1856 a distillery (refinery) in Ulaszowice (today: a borough of Jasło) was built.
In 1861 an official company, though concluded orally, was created. Trzecieski invested a cash contribution, Klobassa offered the land to organize the oil field on and Łukasiewicz took over the management of the entire business. Then, it was an extraordinary enterprise; it was a model of harmonious cooperation. Łukasiewicz took care of modernization of the oil field facilities and improvement of further refineries and the profits were distributed evenly. The oil field brought substantial revenue. With the money he earned, Łukasiewicz bought the village of Chorkówka and built a manor house there, where he lived with his wife Honorata.
The thriving enterprise was dissolved on the Łukasiewicz’s initiative in 1871 as he waived 1/3 of the share in the company but he still held the position of the managing director. He still ran the refinery and bought the feedstock from his partners to distil it in the refinery, but he did not take any income from the oil field. The oil field facility was famous for its perfect organization and modern methods of oil production. The labour came from local villages but they were trained to work as oil field operators by experts coming from Germany and Transylvania.
A ditch, 120 m long and 120 cm deep, dug in the area called Wrzanka (meaning in local Polish: Boiling Ground), where abundant seeps of petroleum or “rock oil” were observed, was the beginning of the oil field. Łukasiewicz improved the enterprise, using professional advice given by then experts in geology and drilling. Help in improvements in drilling methods was given by Adolf Jabłoński and Henryk Walter, who introduced percussion drilling, using Fabian’s fall apparatus. Then, Albert Fauck introduced a steam engine, which was a great improvement as it substantially eliminated human physical effort and labour and provided a possibility of drilling to a depth of 240 m.
In 1868 mineral waters were encountered in the wells in Bóbrka and used in a newly opened health resortbusiness.
The waters turned out to be curative and used successfully in treatment of rheumatic diseases, skin diseases, bladder ailments as well as bronchitis in adults and children. However, inflows of crude oil into the wells put an end to the plans of developing a health resort in Bóbrka.
Łukasiewicz focused entirely on crude oil processing and, consequently, he obtained high quality types of kerosene, which interested global players in the oil industry. He distributed petroleum products in shops in Tarnów, Cracow and Warsaw. He personally advertised kerosene products, taking part in domestic and international exhibitions. He combined his industrial business with public activities. In 1866 he established „Kasy Brackie” (Brotherly Funds), which were the first in Poland and Europe insurance institutions to provide assistance in the event of diseases and disability. He also started „Kasy Zapomogowe” (mutual assistance funds or savings and loan associations), which granted short-term but interest-free loans and helped the local community to get liberated from the rule of usury.
When Łukasiewicz died, Adolf Jabłoński became the director of the upstream business, then succeeded by Zenon Suszycki. The oil field in Bóbrka survived both World Wars and in the 1950s it experienced a short revival when a new reservoir of crude oil was found on the southern fold of the anticline. Unfortunately, the original reservoirs of Bóbrka are not as abundant as they were in the 19th century, though the pump jacks or nodding donkeys (in Polish: kiwony) are still working and pumping “black gold” as they did in pioneer old days.
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