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The profession of landmen developed when oil and gas companies started to form in the 1800s. A New York lawyer, George Bissell, is credited with drilling the first well that kicked off the petroleum industry in the United States. Bissell's land in western Pennsylvania had oil seepages; to explore the land for oil, he organized the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company, which reorganized to become the Seneca Oil Company. Edwin Drake organized the drilling of the well, experimenting with different tools and techniques that laid the foundation for future drilling practice. For example, a wooden tower (known as derrick) was erected and used to lower and retrieve tools; the well was lined with pipe sections, and digging was deeper than originally planned to prevent cave-ins. In 1859, the well was 69.5 deep when oil was struck. About 8 to 10 barrels of oil flowed each day, with crude oil at $20 per barrel at that time.

The commercial use of natural gas preceded the use of oil as a resource. In the 1780s, natural gas companies in Great Britain sold natural gas to customers, with coal-generated gas being used for light in homes and streetlights. Natural gas was accidentally discovered in the United States in the early 19th century, when salt drillers tapped into natural gas pockets. Natural gas was used for streetlights in Baltimore, Maryland. In the 1850s, natural gas was considered a viable source of fuel for heating and lighting homes, and the first natural gas well was drilled during this time. 

The primary use of oil in the 1800s and early 1900s was to make kerosene, which was used in lamps. Oil soon became the primary fuel for automobiles, airplanes, and ships. Gasoline usage increased throughout World War II, which increased oil exploration and drilling across the United States. After the war, gas-powered farm machinery and vehicles used surplus oil, and refineries produced derivatives of petroleum for use in synthetic rubber and other items. Petroleum became the largest source of energy in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s. During this time the oil industry expanded the development of new drilling areas and increased the speed of oil production and shipment.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was created in 1960 to control the quantity of oil being sold and the price of oil. In the 1970s, America relied on oil imports, and an oil shortage occurred when the Middle East issued an embargo on oil shipments. This raised the awareness that domestic oil production needed to increase and other energy resources needed to be explored.

The U.S. natural gas industry was deregulated in the 1990s, and there has since been an increase in companies that sell natural gas directly to consumers, saving them money on gas bills. The price of petroleum surged in the early 21st century due to a decline in U.S. oil exploration and production as well as regional uprisings in Iraq and other countries that produce oil. The U.S. government has again turned the focus on increasing production of oil domestically. Greater focus has also been on developing renewable energy resources and energy conservation methods.

The U.S. petroleum industry continues to explore oil production methods that will meet people's energy needs. The natural gas industry continues to face concerns over its drilling and extraction methods, with fracturing (commonly known as fracking) contested by many environmental groups and communities. New technology is now used that enables energy companies to find oil and gas sources that were previously inaccessible.

Standards and ethics for the landman industry were formalized in 1955, when the American Association of Professional Landmen was created. The introduction of horizontal drilling in 2003 has added to the work of landmen, who may have to negotiate multiple leases for the rights to drill a single well. On the other hand, the Internet and mobile devices have reduced travel time and increased productivity for landman.

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