Consuming on average around twenty billion barrels of oil per day, the U.S. is stringently dependent upon fossil fuels. This dependence has had a marked influence on global politics and has over the course of decades directed U.S. policy both home and abroad. Shaping the international order for much of the last two centuries, global influence — whose is growing and whose is waning — is inextricably linked with oil.
“Oil is like a wild animal. Whoever captures it has it.” (J. Paul Getty).
The Age of American Oil
America rose to prominence on the tide of black gold. During the “Black Gold Rush” that began in 1850, a man by the name of Samuel M. Kier was the first to refine crude oil. His Pittsburgh, PA refinery, working at a capacity of five barrels per day in 1854, was the first of its kind. The first American oil export set sail, meanwhile, on November 19, 1861 — carrying 1,329 barrels of U.S. petroleum that would arrive at London’s Victoria Port after almost two harrowing months at sea. A year later, Philadelphia was exporting over two hundred thousand barrels across the Atlantic, and by 1880 the United States was responsible for supplying eighty percent of the world’s oil. Production began to expand overseas. Britain and France entered the oil business. As competition for areas of exploration intensified, attempts to shut the U.S. out of oil territories in the Middle East saw the United States turn its sights to oil fields in Latin America. Capitulating, however, after a decade of competition and with America more eager than ever for increased oil security following World War I, companies from Britain, France, and the U.S.A. signed the “Red Line Agreement” in 1928. Stipulating that no single entity would seek to independently develop any oil field within the proposed boundaries, the Red Line Agreement effectively proffered control of the oil in Turkey, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia to its signatories. Working as a cooperative, the stage was set for the world’s four largest producers to “ dominate the world market “ in oil (Blair, 1976).