Oil. How is it formed, extracted and used? How much is there?


What is oil?
How is oil formed?
History of usage of oil.
How is oil extracted?
How do we use oil and why?
What are oil reserves?
Why should we be conservative in our use of oil?
What can be done to improve the way we use oil?

What is oil and how is it formed?

Oil-and-Natural-Gas-FormationOil is a fossil fuel which, like other fossil fuels, was formed more than 300 million years ago from plankton, among which single-celled algae like diatoms, that lived in primordial oceans.
Diatoms, are sea plants the size of a pin head. Millions of years ago these algae transformed carbon dioxide into biomass with the help of sunlight. As the diatoms died they fell to the sea floor. Over time they were covered by tons of rocks and sediment. The rock squeezed the diatoms and the energy in their bodies could not escape. The carbon eventually turned into oil under great pressure and heat. As the earth changed and moved and folded, pockets where oil and natural gas can be found were formed.

Oil has been used for more than 5,000-6,000 years. The ancient Sumerians, Assyrians and Babylonians used crude oil and asphalt (“pitch”) collected from large seeps at Tuttul (modern-day Hit) on the Euphrates River. A seep is a place on the ground where the oil leaks up from below ground. The ancient Egyptians, used liquid oil as a medicine for wounds, and oil has been used in lamps to provide light.

The Dead Sea, near the modern Country of Israel, was baptized ‘Lacus Asphaltites’ by the Romans. The word asphalt was derived from that term because of the lumps of gooey petroleum that were washed up on the lake shores from underwater seeps.

History of usage of oil:

In North America, Native Americans used blankets to skim oil off the surface of streams and lakes. They used oil as medicine and to make canoes water-proof. During the Revolutionary War, Native Americans taught George Washington’s troops how to treat frostbite with oil.

With time, the demand for oil continued to increase as a fuel for lamps. Petroleum oil began to replace whale oil in lamps because the price for whale oil was very high. During this time, most petroleum oil came from distilling coal into a liquid or by skimming it off of lakes – just as the Native Americans did.

Fossil Fuels - Oil wellThen on August 27, 1859, Edwin L. Drake, struck liquid oil at his well near Titusville, Pennsylvania. He found oil under ground and a way that could pump it to the surface. The well pumped the oil into barrels made out of wood. This method of drilling for oil is still being used today all over the world in areas where oil can be found below the surface.

How is oil extracted?

Oil and natural gas are found under ground between folds of rock and in areas of rock that are porous and contain the oils within the rock itself. The folds of rock were formed as the earth shifts and moves. It’s similar to how a small, throw carpet will bunch up in places on the floor.

To find oil and natural gas, companies drill through the earth to the deposits deep below the surface. The oil and natural gas are then pumped from below the ground by oil rigs. They then usually travel through pipelines or by ship.

How do we use oil and why?

Oil - Electricity is sent to our homes through transmission lines

Oil is stored in large tanks until it is sent to various places to be used. The petroleum or crude oil must be changed or refined into other products before it can be used. At oil refineries, crude oil is split into various types of products by heating the thick black oil.

Oil is made into many different products – the clothes you wear, the toothbrush you use, the plastic bottle that holds your water, the plastic pen that you write with. They all came from oil. There are thousands of other products that come from oil. Almost all plastic comes originally from oil.

The products also include home heating oil, oil for ships and oil to burn in power plants to make electricity which is then send through transmission lines to our homes.

A large percentage of oil is used to produce gasoline, diesel fuel and aviation or jet fuel, for transportation – cars, planes, trucks, buses and motorcycles.

At present (Jan 2012) oil provides 32% of the world’s consumption of energy.

What are oil reserves?

Oil reserves are years of production left in the ground with the current proved reserves. Current proved reserve is the amount of oil still in the ground which can be extracted in such a way that companies can make a profit from it. At present this is estimated at only 43 years even with the most optimistic proved reserve estimates.

The calculation above assumes that oil will continue to be consumed at our actual rate. In reality, consumption of oil has been increasing. This suggests that oil will be used up more quickly.

The calculation also assumes that oil could be produced at a constant level for that number of years and that all of the proved reserves could be recovered.

In reality, the production curve is much more akin to a bell curve. At some point in time, the production of each resource within an area, country, or globally will reach a maximum value, after which, the production will decline until it reaches a point where is no longer economically feasible or physically possible to produce.

Therefore it is likely oil reserves will last even less than 43 years.
As oil and other fossil fuel supplies diminish, prices will rise. It may then become economically feasible to exploit hitherto unexploited reserves such as tar sands . It is also likely that renewable energy supplies will then become more in demand as they may turn out to be cheaper than the exploitation of fossil fuels reserves. Alternative sources of energy include nuclear, hydroelectric, solar, wind and geothermal.

Most oil comes from the Middle East. So it’s no wonder international powers continuously struggle to keep a tight grip on the area. Other large oil fields are situated in Alaska, Siberia and Asia.

Why should we be conservative in our use of oil?

Oil is often transported by tanker ships which may sink

Oil is often transported by tanker ships which may sink

Oil is transported by huge tanker ships or through pipelines. Often the pipelines leak and tanker ships sometimes get caught in storms or run aground leading to oil spillage into the sea, oceans or onto land. Sometimes accidents happen while drilling for oil, leading to huge oil spillage.

Everybody still remembers the 2010 BP oil disaster when an explosion happened on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oilrig in the Gulf of Mexico. Billions of barrels of oil leaked into the sea and millions of gallons of crude oil flooded the beaches around the Gulf. Scientists estimated that between 11 and 16 million liters of oil PER DAY streamed into the ocean and this for a period of nearly 3 MONTHS!


Oil spillage has disastrous effects

Oil spillage has disastrous effects on the environment. Fish and birds die, beaches become covered in tar and we don’t even know the exact effect the oil spillage has on deep sea creatures. Using less oil or replacing oil by renewable energy will help reduce oil drilling and -transportation accidents.

Another reason not to waste fossil fuels is that they take millions of years to make. We are using up the fuels that were made more than 300 million years ago before the time of the dinosaurs. Once they are gone they are gone. They are not renewable; they can’t really be made again.

We also need to keep in mind that burning oil produces carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is a colorless, odorless gas, but in the atmosphere, it is one of several gases that can trap the earth’s heat. It is therefore called a greenhouse gas. Many scientists believe this is causing the earth’s temperature to rise, and this warming could be altering the earth’s climate. Climate change may be the cause of increased floods and droughts, typhoons and cyclones and many other natural catastrophes.

What can be done to improve the way we use oil?

In economic terms, pollution from fossil fuels is costing quite a lot of money and may become much more expensive in the future. Up until now governments and therefore, taxpayers, have been footing the bill. Taxation is considered one way to make the producer of pollution pay for its negative effects rather than citizens. This would be a way to ‘internalize’ the cost of pollution. There are several advantages to this approach. Fossil fuels would become more expensive, thereby reducing their use and the amount of pollution associated with them, along with raising the funds necessary to counteract these factors.


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