Mappy Monday: Oil and Coal and Gas! : Pennsylvania’s Resources

In the fall of 1864, Ira Sayles, my great2grandfather, penned a letter to an acquaintance.  From his berth in Meadville, Crawford County, Pennsylvania, Ira described boring samples from nearby oil wells.  An excerpt from this letter was published in The American Journal of Arts and Sciences, Vol. 39, in May 1865.  Ira’s observations about the relationship between the quantity/quality of oil and the porosity and permeability of the area’s Devonian sandstones remained relevant to oil and gas industry geologists well into the 21st century.

Amateur geologist Sayles begins his note by referencing an 1858 map of Pennsylvania, a product of geological surveys conducted between 1836-1857, and printed under the superintendence of Henry D. Rogers, Pennsylvania’s first State Geologist.  The map can be accessed at the state’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources website.

1858 Geologic Map of Pennsylvania

As I studied this map – thoughts racing and crashing into one another – I discovered traces of the Minors and the Sayles, the Delehantys and the Corrigans.  All of these pieces of my past had been influenced by the topography and the geology of the Keystone State, with its deposits of Devonian coal and oil.

With a jolt, I recognized the patterns so carefully displayed; the first Pennsylvania Geological Survey resembles a DCNR map published almost 150 years later!

So, it turns out that the Devonian sandstones Ira Sayles described in 1864 actually cap the black, organic-rich Marcellus Shale now at the center of my state’s natural gas fracking debate. The scavenger hunt for ancestor stories has led me, once again, full circle to my own story.

*The first American oil boom began with the drilling of Edwin Drake’s well in Titusville, Pennsylvania in 1859.

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