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Pumping oil well
Near Sarnia, Ontario, 2001

Petroleum (from Latin petrus–rock and oleum–oil) or mineral oil. It can be shortened to the prefix petro-, as in "petrodiesel".

Petroleum is a thick, dark brown or greenish inflammable liquid, which, at certain points, exists in the upper strata of the earth. It consists of a complex mixture of various hydrocarbons, largely of the methane series, but may vary much in appearance, composition, and properties. Biological material in rocks starts off largely as a waxy material known as kerogen. Under the influence of heat and pressure, kerogen breaks down first into liquids and to gases. Both the liquid (petroleum) and gas phases (natural gas) tend to migrate through porous rocks until they encounter impermeable beds where packets/pools will tend to collect. After a drilling and pumping process to extract it from the strata, petroleum is refined by distillation. The products include kerosene, benzene, gasoline, paraffin wax, asphalt, etc.

Strictly speaking, petroleum consists entirely of aliphatic hydrocarbons, those composed of nothing but hydrogen and carbon.

The four lightest hydrocarbons -- CH4 (methane), C2H6 (ethane), C3H8 (propane) and C4H10 (butane) -- are all gases, boiling at -107°C, -67°C, -43°C, and -18°C, respectively (-161°, -88°, -46°, and -1° degrees F).

The chains in the C5-7 range are all light, easily vaporized, clear naphthas. They are used as solvents, dry cleaning fluids, and other quick-drying products. The chains from C6H14 through C12H26 are blended together and used for gasoline. Kerosene is made up of chains in the C10 to C15 range, followed by diesel fuel/heating oil (C10 to C20) and heavier fuel oils as the ones used in ship engines. These petroleum compounds are all liquid at room temperature.

Lubricating oils and semi-solid greases (including Vaseline®) range from C16 up to C20.

Chains above C20 form solids, starting with paraffin wax, then tar and asphaltic bitumen.

Oil field in California, 1938

Boiling ranges of petroleum atmospheric pressure distillation fractions in degrees centigrade:

Petroleum's worth as a portable, dense energy source (powering the vast majority of automobiles, trucks, trains and ships), and as the base of many industrial chemicals makes it one of the world's most important commodities. Access to it was a major factor in several military conflicts, including World War Two and the Gulf War. Much of the world's readily accessible reserves are located in the Middle East, a politically unstable region.

Table of contents
1 Abiotic theory
2 Petroleum history
3 List of Petroleum Companies
4 See also

Abiotic theory

Some scientists have proposed that the current understanding of petroleum and its orgins are incomplete. Some Russian scientists have proposed that petroleum is "abiotic" in nature. The scientific papers can be found here This theory also argues that oil supplies slowly replenish themselves, and that oil reserves are thus much larger than have current estimates state. This theory is still unproven, however.

There is also a new theory, presented in Scientific American, where the mineral origen of oil is discussed. It is based on acitive nuclear activity in the core of the earth that regerates hydrocarbons.

Petroleum history

Petroleum industry was initialized by Edwin Drake in the 1850's, near Titusville, Pennsylvania. The industry grew slowly in the 1800s and did not become a real national concern until the early part of the 20th century; the introduction of the internal combustion engine provided a demand that has largely sustained the industry to this day. Early "local" finds like those in Pennsylvania and Ontario were quickly exhausted, leading to "oil booms" in Texas and California. Other countries had sizable oil reserves as a part of their colonial holdings, and started to develop at an industrial level.

While even in 1955 coal was still the world's foremost fuel oil began to take over. TOday about 90% of fuel needs are met by oil. Following the 1973 oil crisis there was significant media coverage of oil supply levels. This brought to light the concern that oil is a limited resource that we will eventually run out of, at least as an economically viable energy source. At the time, the most common and popular predictions were always quite dire, and when they did not come true many dismissed all such discussion. The future of petroleum as a fuel remains somewhat controversial. Some would argue that because the total amount of petroleum is finite, the dire predictions of the 1970s have merely been postponed. Others argue that technology will continue to allow for the production of cheap hydrocarbons and that the earth has vast sources of unconventional petroleum reserves in the form of tar sands, bitumen fields, oil shale, and methyl hydrate that will allow for petroleum use to continue for an extremely long period in the future.

The presence of the oil industry has significant social and environmental impacts, both from accidents and from routine activities such as seismic exploration, drilling and the generation of polluting wastes. Oil extraction is expensive and frequently environmentally damaging. Offshore exploration and extraction of oil disturbs the surrounding marine environment. Extraction may involve dredging which stirs up the sea bed killing the sea plants that marine creatures require to survive. Crude oil and refined fuel spills from tanker ship accidents have damaged fragile ecosystems in Alaska, the Galapagos Islands, and many other places. Fortunately, renewable energy source alternatives do exist.

List of Petroleum Companies

See also