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The Pennsylvania Story

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In 1859, when Col. Edwin Drake discovered oil in Titusville, Pa., no one could even begin to imagine what an impact it would have on industry and the public at large. By 1862, over 3 million barrels of crude had been lifted from the Pennsylvania fields. In fact, until 1876, there was no appreciable crude production from any other state in the United States. By that time, nearly 70 million barrels had come from the Pennsylvania fields.

Beginning in 1876, Ohio, West Virginia and New York added to the Pennsylvania crude volume. Soon other states, most notably California, Texas, Oklahoma and Wyoming, began to spout large quantities of crude oil. In fact, it seemed as if there was crude everywhere.

By the beginning of the 1920s, Pennsylvanias fields had been surpassed and seemed on the brink of losing their place in the market.

Oilfields from the West and South were producing crude at lower prices and claiming that it was just as good as Pennsylvania crude. Most oilmen knew that Pennsylvanias crudes were more paraffinic and less asphaltic than other crudes. But for the Keystone States champions, the question remained: How do we sell these features and protect our franchise?

In 1923, Pennsylvanias oil industry held a series of meetings to discuss the problem and to propose possible solutions. On Aug. 31, 1923, a large group of people (50) met in Pittsburgh to plan their counterattack. The meeting was chaired by Samuel Messer, vice president of James B. Berry Sons Co., and attended by representatives of the states most important refiners and producers. Out of this meeting came the Pennsylvania Grade Crude Oil Association, which was chartered by the state in April 1924. The major goal of the association was to tell the world, through advertising, about the benefits and features of Pennsylvania Grade motor oil. It was also agreed that a symbol should be developed which would identify products made exclusively with Pennsylvania Grade Crude.

The PGCOAs board of directors was formed with representatives of the various oil drillers, refiners and marketers in the region, which by now included parts of Ohio, West Virginia and New York which shared the oil geology with Pennsylvania. The logo (at far left) was designed and registered with the U.S. Patent office and the first advertisement for Pennsylvania Grade Crude ran in the February 1924 issue of the Saturday Evening Post. Advertisements also ran in trade journals in England, France and Germany.

The next step was to license the logo to oil marketers. Licensees put up a $1,000 penalty bond to insure that only 100 percent Pennsylvania Grade based lubricant base stocks were used in their products. As the program grew, field representatives were added to check compliance. World War II saw an increase in mislabeling, as it was very difficult to get Pennsylvania Grade base stocks for civilian use, and the group contracted Illinois Technical Institute to further monitor compliance. Penn State University was also brought into the program at this time.

The addition of additives to engine oils, beginning in 1930, nullified the marketers 100 percent claim, so the boast was modified to indicate that 100 percent of the base stocks used were Pennsylvania Grade. As engine oil sales grew and Pennsylvania Grade became more difficult to obtain, some oil marketers resorted to purchases of very dilute additives, since the add-packs diluent oil didnt count as base oil content. By 1972, when API SE became the then-current engine oil category, treats of 20 percent additive pack plus 12 percent to 15 percent viscosity index improver were being used to stretch the dwindling native supply. This allowed the Pennsylvania Grade connections to continue for several more years, but twilight had fallen. In time, most oil marketers dropped the Pennsylvania Grade logo and some moved away, although a few kept some amount of the regions base oils in the blends until the 1990s in order to make made with Pennsylvania Grade claims. Eventually, national brands such as Pennzoil, Quaker State and others let the idea fade.

Thats the history, but what makes this regions crudes so unique? Because of their paraffinic nature, lubricating base oils made from Pennsylvania Grade crudes are more resistant to viscosity loss with temperature change and to oxidation than base stocks from more-naphthenic crudes. Thats why the original ASTM method for measuring viscosity index (V.I.), developed in 1928, was based on Pennsylvania Grade base oil. It was the 100 V.I. reference oil, while Gulf Coast oil was the reference oil for 0 V.I. By comparing the Saybolt Universal viscosities of an oil at 210 degrees F and 100 F to similar viscosities of both the Pennsylvania and Gulf Coast oils, the relative change in viscosity with temperature could be reported as some value between 0 and 100 V.I.

Meanwhile, as base stock refining techniques improved and synthetic hydrocarbons were introduced, the V.I. of some engine oils reached greater than 100. The V.I. test method now in use, ASTM D2270, was developed to account for greater-than-100 V.I. oils such as multigrade engine oils, and the industry now uses kinematic viscosity measurements at 40 C and 100 C.

Original refining processes for Pennsylvania Grade crude often included only fractionation into viscosity cuts and wax removal by cold press. Most cuts were also clay-contacted to improve the color.

The bright stock cut (the vacuum residuum) was treated with propane to remove the resinous materials found in Pennsylvania crudes. If the resin was not removed, the cut was referred to as a cylinder stock. This stock has some unique properties which make it invaluable for certain applications. For example, it is the only reliable lubricity agent for steam cylinders such as those found in older refineries (hence the name cylinder stock). Tallow and lard are also used, but Pennsylvania crude resin has the thermal resistance and viscosity to form a natural lubricant for these heavily loaded, high-pressure steam cylinders.

Modern refining now includes solvent extraction of the various fractions and solvent dewaxing of the cuts. Lately, hydroprocessing has gained favor to improve V.I. and color of the lighter viscosity fractions while improving yields. Unfortunately, the severe hydrotreaters that make todays high V.I. base stocks dont produce bright stock, and as older solvent refining plants have closed, a very tight market for bright stocks has developed. There may be more justification than ever for making bright stock, and Pennsylvania Grade crude has always been one of the more desirable types for this.

Pennsylvania Grade crude oil has a long and honorable history in the engine oil and lubricants market, and for many years produced oils of unique character. The official PGCOA logo is still out there, if a bit dusty. And the worlds oldest operating refinery, in Bradford, Pa., still makes engine oil from 100 percent Pennsylvania Grade base stock. Once the home of Kendall (another old-time brand that lost its Keystone state connection), the Bradford plant now is run by American Refining Group, and produces Brad Penn engine oils.

So if you really want it, you can still get it.

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