Last modified: 2021-07-11 by ivan sache
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Flag of Sauer-Pechelbronn - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 6 October 2020
The Communauté de communes Sauer-Pechelbronn (17,391 inhabitants in 2016; 19,778 ha) is composed of the municipalities of Durrenbach (seat), Biblisheim, Dieffenbach-lès-Wœrth, Eschbach, Forstheim, Frœschwiller, Gœrsdorf, Gunstett, Hegeney, Kutzenhausen, Lampertsloch, Langensoultzbach, Laubach, Lembach, Lobsann, Merkwiller-Pechelbronn, Morsbronn-les-Bains, Niedersteinbach, Oberdorf-Spachbach, Obersteinbach, Preuschdorf, Walbourg, Wingen, and Wœrth. It was established in January 2008 as the merger of the former Communautés; de communes Vallée de la Sauer (created in December 1993) and Pechelbronn (created in December 1992).
The flag of Sauer-Pechelbronn (photo) is white with the authority's logo, which features river Sauer (Saarbach in its German part), forming more or less a "S"; orange ruins, most probably representing Castle Fleckenstein; and a pumpjack representing the no longer exploited Pechelbronn oil field.
The ruins of Castle Fleckenstein (website) are located on a rocky spur dominating river Sauer.
Fleckenstein was first mentioned in 1174, as owned by a family in the service of the Hohenstaufen, which also offered an armed service in the imperial castle of Haguenau. During the transition period between the Hohenstaufen and the Habsburg (1250-1272), the Fleckenstein got rid of the imperial service and were recognized as full lords of the domains granted by Frederick II of Hohenstaufen. In 1275, Wolfram of Fleckenstein captured Frederick of Bolanden, bishop of Speyer, and jailed him into the fortress. Upset, Rudolf of Habsburg besieged Fleckenstein, obtaining the surrender and the release of the bishop in 1276. In 1283, the Lichtenberg retrieved all the domains usurped by the Fleckenstein. The family and the castle experienced hard times until the 15th-16th centuries, when the fortress was restored and increased to be able to resist artillery attacks.
In 1674, during the War of the Dutch Succession, the castle was occupied and looted by the French troops led by the Marquess of Vaubrun. In 1689, during the Nine Years' War, General Joseph de Monclar ordered the dismantling of the fortress to prevent its occupation by the enemy. Henri-Jacques, last Baron of Fleckenstein, died in 1720 without male heirs.
In 1734, a student in medicine from Wœrth defended a thesis promoting the healing properties of the Pechelbronn oil; he described different bituminous outcrops. During a distillation experiment, he isolated lamp oil, whose use for lighting would be discovered only one year later. Rather, he described oil as a cure against infections, wounds, eyesore, skin diseases, gout and articulation pains. The thesis most probably triggered pre-industrial exploitation of oil, pushed by the Count of Hanau-Lichtenberg and his son-in-law, the Landgrave of Hessen-Darmstadt.
In 1740, De la Sablonnière, interpret of the King of France at the Swiss Leagues, obtained the exclusivity on the sales of asphalt from Neuchâtel. He designed an "asphalt cement" used to caulk ships. In search of a production site in France, he was granted by the king the right to exploit Pechelbronn oil. In 1741, he established the first oil company ever. Bituminous sand was extracted from galleries, while motherloads were located using hand augers. In a small workshop called "laboratory", oil was separated from sand by washing with boiling water, then distilled to obtain pharmaceutical products, fat and pitch; production of lamp oil started only in the 19th century.
Around 1865, oil was found deeper and deeper; sand extraction was replaced by collect of oozing oil. Mechanic drilling was initiated in 1879, suppressing the risk of explosion and gallery flooding. Drilling depth was increased from 300 m to 700 m and, eventually to 1,200 m. Extraction of heavy oil required the use of pumpjacks, inaugurated in 1882. In 1949, 650 pumpjacks were simultaneously operated.
In 1917, Paul de Chambrier set up a mining system that remained unique in oil extraction. Eight shafts were drilled, connected by galleries running on 430 km, between 150 m and 500 m in depth. Oil was collected in sump pits, pumped aboveground and supplied to the refinery using pipelines.
In 1949, 650 pumpjacks were in activity. The discovery in the 1950s of bigger and easiest to manage oil fields in the Sahara and in the Middle-East caused the decline of Pechelbronn; extraction was reduced from 1955 onward and eventually stopped in 1965. Over it activity period, the Pechelbronn oil field yielded 3,300,000 ton crude oil, that is 20% of its potential.
The distillery established in 1740 mostly produced "black ointment", that is, lubricant oil, which superseded grease of plant and animal origin. Louis Frédéric Achille Le Bel established in 1857 a refinery that produced from 1873 onward "white oil", that is, paraffin oil.
The refinery, still owned by the Société alsacienne d'études minières, obtained a state contract in 1920. Completely revamped in 1926, the refinery processed 75,000 tons crude oil every year. The Antar brand, created in 1927, sold motor oil, special oil for gears and chassis grease. Yearly production was increased to 120,000 ton, covering most of France's demand in petrol products.
Part of the German Reich, the refinery was hit by more than 2,000 bombs during a raid by the US Air Force; destroyed at 90%, it was rebuilt using war damage funds. The refinery was closed in 1970, its activity being relocated to Donges.
[Musée français du pétrole]
Olivier Touzeau & , 26 April 2021