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Hopefully, after reading this you will understand why BioDiesel is a much better fuel.

image of an oil derrick Petroleum Oil - A Fossil Fuel

How Oil Was Formed
Where We Get Oil
Crude Oil is Made into Different Fuels - like gasoline, diesel, and propane
Oil and the Environment

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    Petroleum Oil was formed from the remains of animals and plants that lived millions of years ago in a marine (water) environment before the dinosaurs. This removed carbon (a greenhouse gas) from the air & trapped it in the earth. Over the years, the remains were covered by layers of mud.  Heat and pressure from these layers helped the remains turn into what we today call crude oil. The word "petroleum" means "rock oil" or "oil from the earth."  Burning this oil releases those old carbons into our present day air and raises our carbon dioxide levels.


Three images, all about Petroleum & Natural Gas Formation.

The first image is about the Ocean 300 to 400 million years ago. Tiny sea plants and animals died and were buried on the ocean floor. Over time, they were covered by layers of sand and silt.

The second image is about the Ocean 50 to 100 million years ago. Over millions of years, the remains were buried deeper and deeper. The enormous heat and pressure turned them into oil and gas.

The third image is about Oil & Gas Deposits. Today, we drill down through layers of sand, silt, and rock to reach the rock formations that contain oil and gas deposits.



    Crude oil a smelly, yellow-to-black liquid is found in underground areas called oil reservoirs. Geologists and engineers explore an area by studying rock samples from the earth. Scientific measurements are taken, and if the site seems promising, drilling for oil begins.  Above the drill site a structure called an oil derrick is built to house the tools and pipes that go into the well.  Once the drilled well is finished, it will bring a steady flow of oil to the surface and after refining will eventually find it's way to your cars gas tank.

The world's top five crude oil-producing countries are:

  • Saudi Arabia
  • Russia
  • United States
  • Iran
  • China

    Over one-fourth of the crude oil produced in the United States is produced offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. Alaska has a lot of oil but a lot of oil drilling is off limits because the area is in a national wildlife preserve. The top crude oil-producing states are:

Map of the states, identifying the top petroleum producing states.
  • Texas
  • Alaska
  • California
  • Louisiana
  • New Mexico

    The amount of crude oil produced (domestically) in the United States has been getting smaller each year, even though the use of products made from crude oil has been growing, making it necessary to bring more oil from other countries.  About 58 percent of the crude oil and petroleum products used in the United States comes from other countries.



Products Made from a Barrel of Crude Oil

An image with the breakout of petroluem products: asphalt - 3 percent, jet fuel - 9%, propane - 6%, other products - 20%, heating oil and diesel fuel - 19%, gasoline 43 percent,    After crude oil is pumped from the ground, it is sent to a refinery by pipeline, ship or barge.  At the refinery, different parts of the crude oil are separated into useable petroleum products by a process called distillation.  Crude oil is measured in barrels (abbreviated "bbls").  A 42-U.S. gallon barrel of crude oil provides slightly more than 44 gallons of petroleum products.  This gain in volume from processing the crude oil is because the products are less dense & take up more room.

An image of a typical refinery process flow diagram. Click on it to get a large version.

     note: The gain from processing is about 5%.


    One barrel of crude oil, when refined, produces about 20 gallons of gasoline and 7 gallons of diesel fuel, it also makes 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 to fuel their vehicles.  Other products made from petroleum include: ink, crayons, dishwashing liquids, deodorant, eyeglasses, records, tires, ammonia, heart valves and even bubble gum. 



    Products made from oil (petroleum products) help us do a lot of things. We use them to power our airplanes, cars, and trucks, to heat our houses, and to make things like medicine and plastics. Even though petroleum products make life easier, it is not all good. Locating, processing, transporting, and using them can cause problems for our environment by making air and water pollution. Over the years, new technologies and laws have helped to reduce problems related to petroleum products. As with any industry, the government monitors how oil is produced, refined, stored, and sent to market in order to reduce the impact on the environment and to help control costs. Since 1990, fuels like gasoline and diesel fuel have been changed so that they produce less pollution when we use them, this has come with a cost though. Newer cars have air pollution equipment installed into them & now they cost a whole lot more than they used to.

    Exploring and drilling for oil may disturb land and ocean habitats. New technologies have greatly reduced the number and size of areas disturbed by drilling. Satellites, global positioning systems, remote sensing devices, as well as 3-D and 4-D seismic technologies, make it possible to discover oil reserves while drilling fewer wells. This helps to save money & time. Plus, the use of horizontal and directional drilling make it possible for a single well to produce oil from much bigger areas. Today's oil production footprints are only about one-fourth the size of those 30 years ago, due to the development of movable drilling rigs and smaller "slimhole" drilling rigs. When the oil in a well is gone, the well must be plugged below ground, making it hard to tell that it was ever there. As part of the "rig-to-reefs" program, some old offshore rigs are toppled and left on the sea floor to become artificial reefs that attract fish and other marine life. About a year after an oil rig is toppled, it becomes covered with barnacles, coral, sponges, clams, and other sea creatures.

An image with the breakout of sources of oil in North American waters:

seeps 63%,spills from users 33%, pipeline 1%, ship&barges, 2%, drilling 1%    If oil is spilled into rivers or oceans it can harm wildlife. When we talk about "oil spills" people usually think about oil that leaks from ships when they crash. Although this type of spill can cause the biggest shock to wildlife because so much oil is released at one time, only 2 percent of all oil in the sea comes from ship or barge spills. The amount of oil spilled from ships dropped a lot after new ships were required to have a "double-hull" lining to protect against oil spills. While spills from ships are the most well-known problem with oil, more oil actually gets into water from natural oil seeps coming out of the ocean floor and from leaks that happen when we use petroleum products on land. For example, gasoline that sometimes drips onto the ground when people are filling their gas tanks, motor oil that gets thrown away after an oil change, or fuel that escapes from a leaky storage tank. When it rains, the spilled products may get washed into the gutter and eventually might go into rivers and finally perhaps the ocean. Another way that oil sometimes gets into water is when fuel is leaked from boats and jet skis.

    An oil refinery is a factory where crude oil is distilled or cracked into petroleum products. Because many different pollutants can escape from refineries into the air, the government monitors refineries and other factories to make sure that they meet certain government regulated minimum environmental standards.

    When a leak in a storage tank or pipeline occurs, petroleum products can also get into the ground, and the ground must be cleaned up. This is a very expensive process in both time & money. To prevent leaks from underground storage tanks, all buried tanks are replaced by tanks with a double-lining.

    Generally, gasoline is used in cars, diesel fuel is used in trucks, and heating oil is used to heat our homes. When petroleum products are burned as fuel, they give off carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that some say is linked with global warming. The link to human caused greenhouse gas emissions causing Global Warming is not yet proven & may never be proved during our life time. The earth has had many periods of warming up & cooling down long before humans existed. The use of petroleum products gives off pollutants - carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and unburned hydrocarbons that form air pollution. Since a lot of air pollution comes from cars and trucks, many environmental laws have been aimed at changing the make-up of gasoline and diesel fuel so that they produce fewer emissions. These "reformulated fuels" are cleaner burning than fuels were in the 1990's. In 2006 the amount of sulfur contained in diesel fuel was reduced dramatically from 500 parts per million to 15 parts per million. That may cause many problems for older diesel vehicles because the process to remove sulfur also removed the aromatic hydrocarbons which keep the seals from leaking fuel. The new S15 diesel fuel was developed to be used with much more expensive 2007 model diesel engines. These new technology engines are designed to burn cleaner & produce less pollution. Worth the trade off? Only time will tell.

Sources: Energy Information Administration, Petroleum Supply Annual 2004, June 2005.
U.S. Department of Energy, Environmental Benefits of Advanced Oil and Gas Exploration and Production Technology, October 1999.
National Academies Press, Oil in the Sea III, Chapter 3, 2003.


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Last modified: 12/26/18