For most of the world, oil is a necessary part of life. The United States imports much of its oil and the majority of it is converted into other products for people to use, such as gas or heating oil. On average, the U.S. consumes about 19.4 million barrels of oil per day. Everyone knows we use oil; it’s constantly discussed. People monitor oil and gas prices, talk about large oil companies, and discuss different places in the world where oil is located. Even though oil is such a vital part of our lives, few people understand the history of it. Here are some basic facts discussing where it came from, what was done to it, and how it can be used.
Oil is created from dead organisms, which decayed, fossilized, and eventually broke down into a liquid after millions of years of geothermal events happening beneath the Earth’s surface. There is debate over when oil was first discovered, some claiming it was within the last couple of centuries, while others believe caveman over 40,000 years ago found and used oil to adhere tool materials to one another. Starting around 3000 BC and onward, civilizations in ancient Mesopotamia used oil during construction, in order to create asphalt or waterproof different items.
In 1859, Edwin Drake created the first ever actual oil well in Titusville, PA. When people discuss humankind’s discovery of oil, they often reference this date, because it’s the first creation of the modern harvesting of oil that’s comparable to what we continue doing today. Once this oil well was established, the harvesting and distribution of crude oil took off and Pennsylvania continued to supply about one third of global oil for decades after Drake’s discovery. As time went on, more and more oil wells were created and the industry became what it is today.
Under the Earth’s surface, oil is trapped in pockets in rock, usually accompanied by natural gas. Once a well drills down far enough to hit the oil, pressure naturally pushes it toward the surface, which is why oil sometimes can be seen shooting out of the ground. Once the pressure is all gone, oil wells use machinery to suck and push the rest of the oil out of the ground so they can get as much as possible. This process is expensive and takes a significant amount of time and effort, which is part of the reason oil is so expensive.
Once oil is obtained, it must be heated and separated into different forms, such as liquid and gas. Some of this crude oil can be used as is, but a large portion of it is processed and refined to turn it into other resources. This refining is done by mixing different hydrocarbons (chemicals) with the oil. Refining oil makes it cleaner and more useable. This website has a helpful diagram and goes into great detail about the refining process. After oil is processed into the proper forms, it’s distributed and used in our daily lives, to put gas in our cars, heat our homes and workplaces, or power planes with jet fuel.