The use of crude oil i.e. petroleum in Croatia goes as far back as the 12th century. At that time, the merchants of Dubrovnik used to sell tar. In the 15th century one could buy “olio petrolio” there. Also, “asphalt” and “petroleum” were mentioned as medicines. In 1391, “terram Paklenz” i.e. the land near the village of Paklenica was given in donation to a Paulist Monastery below Garić on Moslavačka Gora. Its name implies that there was once “paklina”, which is an old term for solidified petroleum.
In the 16th century petroleum was found near the Neretva River estuary. In the 18th century, the famous travel writer Alberto Fortis described the source of liquid asphalt on the island of Čiovo. He noticed the same black mass near Škrip on the island of Brač, in Vrgorec and near Sinj. Late in the same century other authors wrote about an ignited petroleum source in Slavonia near Požega, and after that about tar deposits near Komiža on the island of Vis. Petroleum was probably used for medicinal purposes for humans and animals, in construction, for lighting and in shipbuilding.
The first record of organised exploitation of petroleum on the territory of Croatia originates from 1856. In the village of Peklenica in the Međimurje Region, from a water well that was four metres deep, on Count Juraj Festetić’s estate, two men and one woman recovered 20 to 25 measures of petroleum a day with a hand reel for an hourly wage. Eventually Festetić drilled several wells and sold petroleum in the local villages. In 1889, in the nearby Selnica a first oil field was opened with four oil wells. First wooden derricks for oil recovery were mounted in Mikleuška and after that at Baćindol near Nova Gradiška.
If it were not for the oil industry, the largest living creatures on the planet – whales – would be extinct. In the first half of the 19th century, whale oil was the main fuel used in lamps, which brought the whales to the brink of extinction. The appearance of kerosene was a chance for the survival of the species. In the second half of the 19th century, kerosene used for lighting became the major petroleum product. This was changed only half a century later with the commencement of the industrial production of cars.
Owing to the Rijeka Refinery, Croatia can boast a rare particularity. At the Refinery, lubricant oils have been produced since as early as 1887. In that year, 60 tonnes of oil were produced. To put into perspective this production tradition, we should bear in mind that the car was then no more than a technological experiment. In other words, it was before the beginning of the serial production of cars. The oil production and applied experience that has been built up continuously can be regarded as almost unprecedented in the world market.
Milutin Barač (1849-1938) from Paukovac village near Donja Zelina has a place in the history of European petroleum activities.He was the director of the largest European refinery (Rijeka) and at the same time the director of the first European refinery that processed oil in industrial operations (also Rijeka). Eventually he became the technical director of five refineries on the territory of five different European countries (today’s Croatia, Czech Republic, Romania, Hungary and Ukraine). Moreover, he built two plants and thoroughly improved the operation of the third refinery in Brašov.
As early as the 19th century, the Rijeka Oil Refinery was shipping oil with its own tanker named Etelka.Under the command of Franjo Šodić, a ship’s captain from Kostrena, the tanker sailed into the Refinery’s Petroleum Harbour for the first time on 12 December 1892. It brought 3,500 tonnes of petroleum from the Black Sea harbour of Batumi. This was also one of the first ships of that kind – steel-built ships for long voyages – sailing the world.
The first Croatian to become the owner of a refinery was Antonio Ossoinack (1861-1921). His adventurous spirit made him leave his birthplace of Rijeka and settle on the Caspian Sea, in Baku. There he became the owner of a quarter share of one of the local refineries and he started building a factory of chemical products. The October Revolution put a stop to his booming business activities. The new government confiscated entrepreneurs’ property and in 1921 it was Ossoinack’s turn. After two dramatic letters written to his uncle who lived in Kvarner Bay, he disappeared the same year.
The writer Antun Bonifačić (1901-1986), born in Punat on the island of Krk, wrote the first and so far the only Croatian novel dedicated to petroleum. The novel was titled "The Blood of Mother Earth” and was originally published in 1935. The novel described conditions in the oil production sector on the territory of Croatia between the two wars and it also mentioned real-life entrepreneurs, oil companies, the names of places where oil was recovered, and provided a list of joint stock companies and described the places where entrepreneurs met.
Anton Lučić, alias Antony Lucas (1855-1921), an engineer from Split, is the most famous Croatian oil entrepreneur. He became world famous when he came to the USA. He used his revolutionary invention, a hydraulic rotating diamante drill, to reach a depth of 335 meters in Texas in 1900. The ensuing gush could not be stopped for the following 10 days. Lucas’ drilling method made oil more accessible. Since 1937, the American Institute for Mining and Technology has awarded the A. Lucas Medal for exceptional achievements in oil mining.
CRUDE OIL PROCESSING IN RIJEKA 1882 – 2004
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