This section is from "Scientific American Supplement Volumes 275, 286, 288, 299, 303, 312, 315, 324, 344 and 358". Also available from Amazon: Scientific American Reference Book.
MR. E. H. PLUMACHER, U. S. Consul at Maracaibo, sends to the State Department the following information touching the wealth of coal and petroleum probable in Venezuela:
The asphalt mines and petroleum fountains are most abundant in that part of the country lying between the River Zulia and the River Catatumbo, and the Cordilleras. The wonderful sand-bank is about seven kilometers from the confluence of the Rivers Tara and Sardinarte. It is ten meters high and thirty meters long. On its surface can be seen several round holes, out of which rises the petroleum and water with a noise like that made by steam vessels when blowing off steam, and above there ascends a column of vapor. There is a dense forest around this sand-bank, and the place has been called "El Inferno." Dr. Edward McGregor visited the sand-bank, and reported to the Government that by experiment he had ascertained that one of the fountains spurted petroleum and water at the rate of 240 gallons per hour. Mr. Plumacher says that the petroleum is of very good quality, its density being that which the British market requires in petroleum imported from the United States. The river, up to the junction of the Tara and Sardinarte, is navigable during the entire year for flat-bottomed craft of forty or fifty tons.
Mr. Plumacher has been unable to discover that there are any deposits of asphalt or petroleum in the upper part of the Department of Colon, beyond the Zulia, but he has been told that the valleys of Cucuta and the territories of the State of Tachira abound in coal mines. There are coal mines near San Antonia, in a ravine called "La Carbonera," and these supply coal for the smiths' forges in that place. Coal and asphalt are also found in large quantities in the Department of Sucre. Mr. Plumacher has seen, while residing in the State of Zulia, but one true specimen of "lignite," which was given to him by a rich land-owner, who is a Spanish subject. In the section where it was found there are several fountains of a peculiar substance. It is a black liquid, of little density, strongly impregnated with carbonic acid which it transmits to the water which invariably accompanies it. Deposits of this substance are found at the foot of the spurs of the Cordilleras, and are believed to indicate the presence of great deposits of anthracite.
There are many petroleum wells of inferior quality between Escuque and Bettijoque, in the town of Columbia. Laborers gather the petroleum in handkerchiefs. After these become saturated, the oil is pressed out by wringing. It is burned in the houses of the poor. The people thought, in 1824, that it was a substance unknown elsewhere, and they called it the "oil of Columbia." At that time they hoped to establish a valuable industry by working it, and they sent to England, France, and this country samples which attracted much attention. But in those days no method of refining the crude oil had been discovered, and therefore these efforts to introduce petroleum to the world soon failed.
The plains of Ceniza abound in asphalt and petroleum. There is a large lake of these substances about twelve kilometers east of St. Timoteo, and from it some asphalt is taken to Maracaibo. Many deposits of asphalt are found between these plains and the River Mene. The largest is that of Cienega de Mene, which is shallow. At the bottom lies a compact bed of asphalt, which is not used at present, except for painting the bottoms of vessels to keep off the barnacles. There are wells of petroleum in the State of Falcon.
Mr. Plumacher says that all the samples of coal submitted to him in Venezuela for examination, with the exception of the "lignite" before mentioned, were, in his opinion, asphalt in various degrees of condensation. The sample which came from Tule he ranks with the coals of the best quality. He believes that the innumerable fountains and deposits of petroleum, bitumen, and asphalt that are apparent on the surface of the region around Lake Maracaibo are proof of the existence below of immense deposits of coal. These deposits have not been uncovered because the territory remains for the most part as wild as it was at the conquest.