Montechino and petroleum

When petroleum flowed in the Chero Valley

Already before the 19th century it was known that strange unusual phenonmena occurred in the area of the Chero valley: hot springs, will-o'-the-wisps or ignis fatuus that indicated the presence of gas, petrol leaks or springs where the water was mixed with an oily liquid.
In 1866 in the area of Gropparello, between the Chero and Riglio valleys, more accurate and scientific research was undertaken, which led to positive results at the end of the century.
The first search for petrol at Gropparello was carried out by a Genoese company, and later drilling was effected by Count Marazzani and subsequently by the French company Petroles de Montechino. Their place was taken by a German firm, which then ceded all the wells to the French baron Adolfo Zipperlen - an engineer who had gathered much experience drilling wells all over the world and was the owner of the Società Francese dei Petroli. His reading of Pliny the Elder had convinced Zipperlen there was petroleum in the Chero valley, and he was proved right: in 1888 the petrol began to flow.

The petroleum of Montechino turned out to be extraordinarily pure, more than 50% pure petrol, the rest kerosene, with only a very small percentage of heavy oils.

The area Montechino - Gratera was soon filled with oil derriks (wooden towers with truncated pyramidal tops set over the oil wells). A refinery was built at Fiorenzuola where the petrol from Montechino was taken initially in tankers drawn by animals, but later a pipeline was built, 29 km long.

At that time drilling was extremely hard work. A dry percussion drilling system was used that could drill 10-12 metres a day, occasionally as much as 30 metres or more in a day. The workers on the drills were both locals and people from other areas, including some Poles who had gained experience in Galicia.

Around Montechino and the Gratera 349 wells were opened, which were worked until 1950.
After 1950 drilling in the Chero and Riglio valleys was stopped, the wells were all closed, and only a few bits of pipe remain that occasionally let out a little gas or a bowlful of petrol.

Some numbers....
Over a period of sixty years, from 1890 to 1950, 349 wells were opened.
Most of the wells had a depth varying between 500 and 700 metres, some reaching 900.
Well no. 53 was the deepest, reaching 1163 metres; it was drilled by hand before 1922.
Some wells delivered up to 40,000 litres of petroleum a day.

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