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Abstract

This article aims to present selected episodes of the scientific and entrepreneurial activities realized in the Majella oil district, Abruzzo, central Italy, between the 1830s and the 1940s. Majella had an important role in the early process of modernization of the Italian oil industry. As we will see, the application of science and technology in the wellsite, a pioneering integrated production model, unexpected environmental constraints and the longevity of the business made Abruzzo into a benchmark. Between 1864 and 1865, the pattern of the secular and unchanged local manufacturing of bitumen, based on human labour and the manual harvesting of the mineral from natural outcrops, was outdone by two new conditions: the study of subsoil and the utilization of mechanical drilling. These early records of paid oil consultancies and the utilization of steam power were followed by the impressive, but short and illusory, peak in production never recorded before. In the following decades, the Majella district was very active and drew the attention of several international operators, in spite of the declining production of crude – compensated for by the yield of bitumen and shales – and the unstoppable rising of the Emilian Apennine ridge in the provinces of Pavia, Piacenza and Parma. From the early 1900s, foreign companies gradually reduced investment in new exploration in Maiella, where the core production was now bitumen and asphalts rather than oil and, by the 1920s, most of the industry was controlled by government authorities and local business. The advent of Fascism in the 1930s saw Maiella become a stronghold of the autarchy’s policies; later, the improvised and inefficient national fuel planning of Italy at the start of the Second World War saw Abruzzo’s oil and bitumen supplies become a strategic resource. The Maiella district has the longest production history in Italy and today geoscientists are surveying and interpreting the geology of the area with a new perspective.

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