Petroleum is scarcely less constant in its connection with these carbonaceous rocks than carbureted hydrogen, and it only escapes notice from the little space it occupies. The two substances are so closely allied that they must have a common origin, and they are, in fact, generated simultaneously in thousands of localities.
During the oil excitement of some years since, when the whole country was hunted over for "oil sign," in many lagoons, from which bubbles of marsh-gas were constantly escaping, films of genuine petroleum were found on the surface; and as the underlying strata were barren of oil, this could only have been derived from the decaying vegetable tissue below. In the Bay of Marquette, two or three miles north of the town, where the shore is a peat bog underlain by Archaean rocks, I have seen bubbles of carbureted hydrogen rising in great numbers attended by drops of petroleum which spread as iridescent films on the surface.
The remarks which have been made in regard to the heterogeneous nature of the solid hydrocarbons apply with scarcely less force to the gaseous and liquid products of vegetable decomposition. The gases which escape from marshes contain carbonic acid, a number of hydrocarbon gases (or the materials out of which they may be composed in the process of analysis), and finally a larger or smaller volume of nitrogenous gas. It is possible that the elimination of these gases takes the form of fractional distillation, and definite compounds may be formed directly from the wood-tissue or its derivatives, and mingle as they escape. This is, however, not certain, for the gases, as we find them, are always mixtures and never pure. In the liquid evolved products, the petroleums, this is emphatically true, for we combine under this name fluids which vary greatly in both their physical and chemical characters; some are light and ethereal, others are thick and tarry; some are transparent, some opaque; some red, some brown, others green; some have an offensive and others an agreeable odor; some contain asphalt in large quantity, others paraffine, etc.
Thus they form a heterogeneous assemblage of liquid hydrocarbons, of which naphtha and maltha may be said to form the extremes, and which have little in common, except their undefinable name. The causes of these differences are but imperfectly understood, but we know that they are in part dependent on the nature of the organic material that has furnished the petroleums, and in part upon influences affecting them after their formation. For example, the oil which saturates the Niagara limestone at Chicago, and--which is undoubtedly indigenous in this rock, and probably of animal origin, is black and thick; that from Enniskillen, Canada, is also black, has a vile odor, probably in virtue of sulphur compounds, and, we have reason to believe, is derived from animal matter. The oils of northwestern Pennsylvania are mostly brown, sometimes green by reflected light, and have a pungent and characteristic odor. These are undoubtedly derived from the Hamilton shales, which contain ten or twenty per cent, of carbonaceous matter, apparently produced from the decomposition of sea-weeds, since these are in places exceedingly abundant, and nearly all other fossils are absent.
The oils of Italy, though varying much in appearance, have usually an ethereal odor that is rather agreeable; they are of Tertiary age. The oils of Japan, differing much among themselves, have as, a common character an odor quite different from the Pennsylvania oils. So the petroleums of the Caspian, of India, California, etc., occurring at different geological horizons, exhibit a diversity of physical and chemical characters which may be fairly supposed to depend upon the material from which they have been distilled. The oils in the same region, however, are found to exhibit a series of differences which are plainly the result of causes operating upon them after their production. Near the surface, they are thicker and darker; below, and near the carbonaceous mass from which they have been generated, they are of lighter gravity and color. We find, in limited quantity, oils which are nearly white and may be used in lamps without refining--which have been refined, in fact, in Nature's laboratory. Others, that are reddish yellow by transmitted light, sometimes green by reflected light, are called amber oils; these also occur in small quantity, and, as I am led to believe, have acquired their characteristics by filtration through masses of sandstone.
Whatever the variety of petroleum may be, if exposed for a long time to the air it undergoes a spontaneous distillation, in which gases and vapors, existing or formed, escape, and solid residues are left. The nature of these solids varies with the petroleums from which they come, some producing asphaltum, others paraffine, others ozokerite, and so on through a long list of substances, which have received distinct names as mineral species, though rarely, if ever, possessing a definite and invariable composition. The change of petroleum to asphalt may be witnessed at a great number of localities. In Canada, the black asphaltic oil forms by its evaporation great sheets of hard or tarry asphalt, called gum beds, around the oil-springs. In the far West are numerous springs of petroleum, which are known to the hunters as "tar springs," because of the accumulations about them of the products of the evaporation and oxidation of petroleum to tar or asphalt. Certain less common oils yield ozokerite as a solid, and considerable accumulations of this are known in Galicia and Utah.
Natural paraffine is less abundant, and yet in places it occurs in considerable quantity. Asphalt is the common name for the solid residue from the evaporation and oxidation of petroleum; and large accumulations of this substance are known in many parts of the world, perhaps the most noted of all being that of the "Pitch Lake". of the Island of Trinidad; there, as everywhere else, the derivation of asphalt from petroleum is obvious, and traceable in all stages. The asphalts, then, have a common history in this, that they are produced by the evaporation and oxidation of petroleum. But it should also be said that they share the diversity of character of petroleums, and the term asphalt represents a group of substances of which the physical characters and chemical composition differ greatly in virtue of their derivation, and also differ from changes which they are constantly undergoing. Thus at the Pitch Lake in Trinidad, the central portion is a tarry petroleum, near the sides a plastic asphalt, and finally that which is of almost rock-like solidity. Hence we see that the solid residues from petroleum are unstable compounds like the coals and lignites, and in virtue of their organic nature are constantly undergoing a series of changes of which the final term is combustion or oxidation.