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What is Crude Oil? A Detailed Explanation on this Essential Fossil Fuel


Crude oil, commonly known as petroleum, is a liquid found within the Earth comprised of hydrocarbons, organic compounds and small amounts of metal. While hydrocarbons are usually the primary component of crude oil, their composition can vary from 50%-97% depending on the type of crude oil and how it is extracted. Organic compounds like nitrogen, oxygen, and sulfur typically make-up between 6%-10% of crude oil while metals such as copper, nickel, vanadium and iron account for less than 1% of the total composition.

Crude Oil Formation

Crude oil is created through the heating and compression of organic materials over a long period of time. Most of the oil we extract today comes from the remains of prehistoric algae and zooplankton whose remains settled on the bottom of an Ocean or Lake. Over time this organic material combined with mud and was then heated to high temperatures from the pressure created by heavy layers of sediment. This process, known as diagenesis, changes the chemical composition first into a waxy compound called kerogen and then, with increased heat, into a liquid through a process called catagenesis. 

Crude Oil Extraction

The most common method of crude oil extraction is drilling. Geologists will first identify a section of land they believe has oil flowing beneath it. There are a number of ways this can be accomplished, the most frequently used methods are satellite imagery, gravity meters, and magnetometers. Once a steady stream of oil is found, underground the drilling can begin.
Drilling is not an overly complicated process however a standard method has been developed to provide maximum efficiency. The first step of the process involves drilling into the ground in the exact location where the oil is located. Once a steady flow has been identified at a particular depth beneath the ground a perforating gun is lowered into the well. A perforating gun has explosive charges within it that allow for oil to flow through holes in the casing. Once the casing is properly perforated a tube is run into the hole allowing the oil and gas to flow up the well. To seal the tubing a device called a packer is run along the outside of the tube. The last step involves the placement of a structure called a Christmas tree which allows oil workers to control the flow of oil from the well.

Oil Sands

Oil can also be extracted from oil sands, often called tar sands. Oils sands are typically sand or clay mixed with water and a very viscous form of crude oil known as bitumen. The extraction process for oil sands is quite different from drilling due to the high viscosity of this extra-heavy oil. Rather than using drills, crude oil is extracted from oil sands through strip mining or a variety of other techniques used to reduce the viscosity of the oil. This process can be far more expensive than traditional drilling and is found in high abundance only in Canada and Venezuela. As oil demand continues to rise, and reserves become depleted, oil sands could provide one of the last viable methods for extracting crude oil from the Earth.

Worldwide Oil Production

While just about every country in the world depends on oil, not all countries produce it. The top five oil-producing countries are: Saudi Arabia, Russia, United States, Iran, and China. It is important to note that the term production here refers to crude oil extracted from oil reserves. The top five oil consuming countries are: United States, China, Japan, Russia, and Germany.
At the current rate of consumption it is estimated that worldwide reserves will become extinguished by 2039. Scientists and engineers are working hard to find ways of more efficiently extracting and processing crude oil to delay what could become a global energy crisis.

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Leave a comment
  • Anonymous on January 18 2010 said:
    Extinguished. Does that mean finito? If it does then that is completely wrong. Oil will be available when the parties begin to celebrate the arrival of the 25th century. Of course there won't be much of it, perhaps enough to light the lamps of Shanghai and the South Bronx, but that's another matter.
  • Anonymous on June 25 2010 said:
    Peak oil is a 3rd grader level myth. There may be more crude in the earth than there is water. Look at the hydrocarbons discovered on Saturn's moon titan.
  • Anonymous on October 16 2010 said:
    I think 2039 is when conventional oil could be depleted. I've seen stats saying that the reserves of bitumen will last for up to 200 years. Bitumen is also heavier in pollutants...
  • Anonymous on October 16 2010 said:
    I really suspect growth skepticism is behind the "peak oil" facade. Better challenge the ideological & philosopical notion before some misanthropes impose on us ordinary people with environmentalist sort of policies that put the brakes on the world economy which, as of now, is trying to lift their way out of the doldrums (due to recession).Thank you very much.P.S.: no more excessive politicking please. This is what I am trying to confront the current situation behind the reality of growth skepticism of various sorts.
  • Anonymous on November 13 2011 said:
    Nitrogen , oxygen and sulfur are not compounds.They are just elements which may be a part of different organic compounds.
  • G Srinu on May 07 2012 said:
    good material
  • Kala on June 06 2013 said:
    Scientifically proven that the primary source of energy is the SUN however, the source of energy of the sun is said to be running out of reserve and with time to come it'll 'die' like any other star of the galaxy. Notwithstanding the fact that we live in a scientific realms, just ask yourself 'what is the way forward?'.....
  • rosie golder on November 25 2013 said:
    good work
  • John Smith on November 05 2015 said:
    good work
  • prashant gupta on November 20 2015 said:
    very good work
  • kabir on November 23 2015 said:
    At what temperature is the crude oil formed
  • Rose White on November 08 2017 said:
    In reality all oil, gas and coal are being formed from all the dinosaurs, humans and vegetation washed off Earth during The Flood about 4,350 years ago.
    Watch some flashflood and tsunami videos to see how water can strip land bare - and then see how all the debris settles in layers depending on its own weight and also the distance from its source.
    Then you can see how many layers of sediments were laid down during The Flood.
    Read: 'A Brief History of Time #2' to understand.
  • Anonymous on February 19 2018 said:
    Of course oil will be depleted, in only a matter of time unless a new energy source is discovered
  • Crabba on February 28 2018 said:
    Nice Info
  • sohil on December 24 2018 said:
    Very informative, thanks for sharing.
  • Dixie Normous on April 19 2020 said:
    This is very well put, thanks for the help. :)
  • Terry Garvin on December 30 2022 said:
    Great imformation. Thought I new what crude was on but this put everything in focus. Had a geologist tell me in the 70s that we will never run out of oil,it will just get harder to get to . I heard Musk years ago say that EVs were more about saving oil than global warming.
  • Stephen Harris on December 31 2022 said:
    Too bad this educational post had to mention "peak oil." America alone has busted through peak oil predictions for over 150 years, but there always seem to be people who fear we will run out of oil. Anybody remembers predictions of KSA reserves running out 30 years ago? Look at US shale oil as another example. If George Mithcell had bought into this negativism, we would be producing less than half of US oil production today. You need to balance geology and reservoir engineering to understand that the planet's oil reserves are only estimates of known fields and take no real account of future potential. Oilmen and women are always searching for new discoveries, and they will be found.

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