America's New Oil Rush

new oil boom in america pennsylvania
Bill Huber is a third-generation oil man - using 19th century methods and grit to pull crude from his oil field north of Pittsburgh.

He walked CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann through his oil drilling operation.

He describes it as, "basically a century old."

"So your granddaddy built this place?" Strassmann asked.

"Yeah," he replied.

There's oil in these hills. Lots of it. But for decades, little guys like Huber were just getting by.

Now with oil sky-high, there's more incentive than ever to pump it out.

Before, Huber was just getting by - for years.

"And look at you now," Strassmann said. "Feels pretty good?"

"Yeah," Huber said. "Things are finally looking up."

Just 10 years ago, oil was trading for less than $20 a barrel. But today's prices have sparked a new oil rush - and not just in places you'd expect, like Texas.

They've been drilling for black gold in southern California neighborhoods, Indiana cornfields - even a cemetery near Cleveland.

Independent operators are now responsible for two-thirds of domestic oil production.

"It's already higher than I thought I would ever see it," Huber said. "So anything past now, I guess you'd call it real gravy, I don't know."

It was gravy back in 1857 when the modern oil industry was born in western Pennsylvania. Oil City was at the center of the action for 100 years - until the shallow wells dried up and the big players packed up.

And Oil City is where it all began. It is the site of the world's first commercial oil well.

Even today, geologists estimate as much as 60 percent of this region's oil remains untapped. That's enough oil to keep the pumps going for another century.

"We have new shops and people are moving in," said the city's mayor, Sonja Hawkins.

After 50 years of hard times, Hawkins says her city's on the brink of a re-birth. A Canadian company is leasing 8,000 acres with the plan to use the latest technology to tap the remaining oil.

"This can help jumpstart our town," she said.

And reward those with oil in their blood ... and on their tongues.

Huber tasted the oil he'd drilled, and turned to Strassmann, saying "go ahead!"

Even here ... crude has never tasted so sweet.

  • Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001 and is based in the Atlanta bureau.