The Great Well of China; June 1993; Scientific American Magazine; by Hans Ulrich Vogel; 6 Page(s)
The landlocked Chinese province of Sichuan harbors one of the technological wonders of world: the Xinhai well. It is remarkable not just for its age--158 years--and its depth-- 1,001 meters; the Xinhai well represents the crowning achievement of an industry that invented deep drilling four centuries before Europeans developed the technology.
Almost 1,000 years ago the Sichuanese made boreholes 100 meters deep to reach sources of brine. Elaborate systems were built for hoisting brine from the ground and refining it into precious salt. The Sichuanese even struck natural gas and found its first commercial use: fueling fires to evaporate the brine. Today deep drilling is praised as one of ancient China's greatest innovations--comparable to their invention of paper, printing, gunpowder and compasses. Indeed, the Chinese salt industry of the 19th century is, in some ways, the precursor of modern petroleum production.