Oil comes from crude
oil, which is a mix of hydrocarbons with some oxygen, nitrogen, and
sulfur impurities. One barrel of oil (42 U.S. gallons) can provide
about 6 million Btu. Crude oil reserves are found all over the
world, but the Middle East alone has about 63 percent of the known
reserves. Of the oil consumed in the United States, most is used in
transportation, and much of the rest goes to industrial, commercial,
and residential uses. Crude oil is used to produce not only a range
of fuels, but also petrochemical ingredients for plastics, inks,
tires, pharmaceuticals, and a host of other products.
exploration technology and practices have led to the discovery of as
many new reserves as have already been used. To make the most of
this valuable resource, energy producers are developing more
efficient refining methods, product makers are finding more
efficient ways to use petrochemicals, and manufacturers are
developing more efficient cars. New techniques of locating and
extracting oil from the earth are also making it possible to recover
oil that was once too expensive to produce.
Oil is usually
recovered by drilling wells through the non-porous rock barrier that
traps the oil. In general, about 30 percent of the oil trapped can
be economically recovered by pumping. "Secondary" recovery
can remove another 10 percent, by flooding the well with
high-pressure water or gas. Another 10 percent can sometimes be
recovered with "tertiary" methods that heat the oil to
scrub it out. About half of the oil is left trapped in the rock. Oil
producers are continually seeking economical ways to recover more of
The oil refining
process separates crude oil into different hydrocarbons and removes
impurities such as sulfur, nitrogen, and heavy metals. The first
step is fractional distillation, a process that takes advantage of
the fact that different hydrocarbons boil at different temperatures.
In a tall tower called a fractionating column, crude oil is heated
until it boils. Horizontal trays divide the column at intervals. As
the oil boils, it vaporizes. Each hydrocarbon rises to a tray at a
temperature just below its own boiling point. There, it cools and
turns back into a liquid.
fractions are liquefied petroleum gases (propane and butane) and the
petrochemicals used to make plastics, fabrics, and a wide array of
consumer products. Next come gasoline, kerosene, and diesel fuel.
Heavier fractions make home heating oil and fuel for ships and
factories. Still heavier fractions are made into lubricants and
waxes. The remains include asphalt.
The refining process
then continues, with heavy fractions converted into lighter
fractions. In most cases, "cracking" processes are used to
transform large (heavy) hydrocarbon molecules and make the smaller,
lighter molecules such as gasoline and jet fuel. Better refining
technologies have made it possible to produce over 21 gallons of
gasoline from a 42-gallon barrel of crude oil—a remarkable advance
over the industry’s early days, when a barrel of oil yielded just
11 gallons of gasoline.
Oil shale was never
buried deeply enough or heated enough to form crude oil. Its
hydrogen content is between that of coal and crude oil.
Concentrations of oil are low, so that, at most, one barrel of oil
can be recovered from 2.4 tons of sand or 1.5 tons of rock. Huge
amounts of oil shale are found all over the world. In fact, the
total global resource is 1,000 times greater than crude oil
reserves. But extracting the energy value of oil shale is not
practical today. Scientists and engineers continue working on ways
to recover oil shale for a reasonable cost.
Crude oil is a
naturally-occurring substance found trapped in certain rocks below the earth's
crust. It is a dark, sticky liquid which, scientifically speaking, is classed
as a hydrocarbon. This means, it is a compound containing only hydrogen and
It was also formed more than 300
million years ago. Some scientists say that tiny diatoms is the source of oil.
Diatoms are sea creatures the size of a pin head. They do one thing just like
plants; they can convert sunlight directly into stored energy.
Crude oil is highly flammable and can be burned to create energy. Crude
oil is measured in barrels. When crude oil first came into large-scale
commercial use in the United States in the 19th century, it was stored in
wooden barrels. One barrel equals 42 US gallons, or 159 litres.
The U.S.'s first commercial oil
well was drilled in 1859 near Titusville, Pennsylvania, by Edwin Drake
Today's oil industry began almost
150 years ago -- in 1859. In those days, an oily fuel for lamps and lubricants
was made by melting the fact of whales. But whale oil had become expensive. A
company called the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company became interested in digging
for natural oil. Oily rocks had been encountered in Pennsylvania by people
drilling for salt. At first, this "rock oil" had been used as a
medicine, but if enough of it could be found, perhaps it might be a cheaper
substitute for whale oil. The Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company came up with the
idea of drilling for oil. Not everyone was convinced, however. One banker who
was asked to lend some of the money for the venture remarked, "Oil coming
out of the ground, pumping oil out of the earth as you pump water?
Nonsense!" But the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company was convinced that
drilling for oil -- rather than digging for it -- was the way to go. They hired
a part-time railroad conductor named Edwin L. Drake to go to Titusville,
Pennsylvania and see if he couldn't drill for oil. After a year of planning and
drilling Drake struck oil. A new industry was born.
Modern-day oil prospecters use
sound waves to locate oil. In one technique, (1) a signal is sent into the rock
by a vibrator turck, (2) the reflected waves are received by geophones, and (3)
the data is transmitted to a laboratory truck.
After crude oil is refined into
gasoline and other petroleum products, the products must be distributed to
consumers. The majority of gasoline is shipped first by pipeline to storage
terminals near consuming areas and then loaded into trucks for delivery to
individual gas stations. Gasoline and other products are sent through shared
pipelines in “batches.” Since these batches are not physically separated in
the pipeline, some mixing or “commingling” of products occurs. This is why
the quality of the gasoline and other products must be tested as they enter and
leave the pipeline to make sure they meet appropriate specifications. Whenever
the product fails to meet local, State, or Federal product specifications, it
must be removed and trucked back to a refinery for further processing.
Products Made from a Barrel of Crude Oil
One barrel of crude oil, when
refined, produces about 20 gallons of finished motor gasoline, and 7 gallons of
diesel, as well as other petroleum products. Most of the petroleum products are
used to produce energy. For instance, many people across the United States use
propane to heat their homes and fuel their cars. Other products made from
petroleum include: ink, crayons, bubble gum, dishwashing liquids, deodorant,
eyeglasses, records, tires, ammonia, and heart valves.
A.D. Oil wells are drilled in China up to 800 feet deep using bits attached
to bamboo poles.
Mining of seep oil in medieval Persia witnessed by Marco Polo on his travels
Seep oil collected in the Carpathian Mountains of Poland is used to light
Oil wells are hand dug at Baku, Persia up to 35 meters (115 feet) deep.
Oil sands are mined and the oil extracted at Pechelbronn field in Alsace,
Oil is produced in United States as an undesirable by-product from brine
wells in Pennsylvania.
First modern oil well is drilled in Asia, on the Aspheron Peninsula
north-east of Baku, by Russian engineer F.N. Semyenov.
Distillation of kerosene from oil by Canadian geologist Dr. Abraham Gesner.
Kerosene eventually replaces whale oil as the illuminant of choice and
creates a new market for crude oil.
Oil from hand-dug pits in California at Los Angeles is distilled to produce
lamp oil by General Andreas Pico.
First oil wells in Europe are drilled 30- to 50-meters deep at Bóbrka,
Poland by Ignacy Lukasiewicz.
Michael Dietz invents a kerosene lamp that forces whale oil lamps off the
First oil well in North America is drilled in Ontario, Canada.
First oil well in United States is drilled 69 feet deep at Titusville,
Pennsylvania by Colonel Edwin Drake.
First oil well in California is drilled manually in Humboldt County.
Oil is collected from tunnels dug at Sulphur Mountain in Ventura County by
the brothers of railroad baron Leland Stanford, the same year that these
techniques are applied to the Pechelbronn oil mine inFrance.
First steam-powered rig in California drills an oil well at Ojai, not far
from the Sulphur Mountain seeps.
First commercial oil field in California is discovered at Pico Canyon in Los
Electric light bulb invented by Thomas Edison eliminates demand for
kerosene, and the oil industry enters a recession. 1885 Gas wells are
drilled in Stockton, California for fuel and lighting.
Oil burners on steam engines in the California oil fields, and later on
steam locomotives, create new crude oil markets.
Gasoline-powered automobiles introduced in Europe by Karl Benz and Wilhelm
Daimler create additional markets for California oil. Prior to the
automobile, gasoline was a cheap solvent produced as a byproduct of kerosene
A steel-hulled tanker sails from Ventura to San Francisco, eleven years
after the 1877 sailing of a Russian tanker across the Caspian sea at Baku.
Discovery of Kern River oil field propels Kern County to top oil-producing
region in state.
Credit: The U.S.
Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management Argonne National
Laboratory The Oil Shale and
Tar Sands Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, Government Of
Alberta Canada,Energy Information Administration, U.S. Department of
Energy, OPEC, Shell Oil company, The CIA
compiled from The British Antarctic Study, NASA, Environment Canada,
UNEP, EPA and other sources as stated and credited Researched by Charles
Welch-Updated daily This Website is a project of the The Ozone Hole Inc.
a 501(c)(3) Nonprofit Organization http://www.theozonehole.com