Petroleum Facts
Petroleum Facts

44 Interesting Petroleum Facts

James Israelsen
By James Israelsen, Associate Writer
Published July 30, 2020
  • Petroleum can occur in liquid, gaseous, or solid forms.[1]
  • Natural gas is a liquid form of petroleum.[1]
  • The word “petroleum” comes from two Latin words: petra, meaning “rock” or “stone,” and oleum, the word for “oil.”[1]
  • The first use of the word “petroleum” was by a German mineralogist in 1556.[1]
  • In its semi-solid form, petroleum is called bitumen and can be found in tar sands.[1]
  • The Sumerians, one of the earliest known human civilizations, discovered petroleum on the banks of the Euphrates River and found a variety of uses for it, including roadbuilding and waterproofing.[1][8]
  • The ancient Egyptians used liquid forms of petroleum as a medicine, probably for dressing wounds, soothing pain, and as a laxative.[1]
  • Bitumen, a viscous, sticky form of petroleum, was poured over the heads of lawbreakers in ancient Assyria.[1]
  • Almost 2000 years ago, both Arabs and Persians developed methods for distilling crude oil into a flammable product that had various military uses.[1]
  • In 480 BCE, the Persian army wrapped their arrows in oil-soaked rags and lit them on fire before shooting them into the city of Athens.[1]
  • American Oil Drilling
    Drake was the first American to refine petroleum into kerosense
  • In 1859, American entrepreneur Edwin L. Drake completed the very first well to drill specifically for oil. The well was located in northern Pennsylvania.[1]
  • One of the reasons for oil’s instant success as an energy fuel has to do with its relative ease of transport, as compared to previously-used sources like animals, wood, and coal.[1]
  • At the turn of the 21st century, around 100 million barrels of oil were being produced for worldwide consumers on a daily basis.[1]
  • The difference between some wealthy and poor nations is simply a matter of whether or not there are substantial oil deposits within a given nation’s borders.[1]
  • For crude oil, there is no such thing as a freezing point because it consists of several different compounds, each of which freezes at a different temperature. Whenever lower temperatures are a concern for drilling or transporting oil, a “pour point”—the point at which the oil will become too plastic to flow—is used instead.[1]
  • A little less than half of all petroleum reserves are located in the Middle East; however, the amount of oil they actually produce from those reserves is only 30% of that which is produced globally.[1]
  • Together, Canada and the United States rank second only to the Middle East in the amount of oil that lies within their borders, followed by Latin America and then Africa.[1]
  • Brazil’s oil reserves, the second largest in South America, are mostly located in deep-water basins off the coasts of the Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo states.[1]
  • Currently, the United States holds the record for having produced more oil than any other country.[1]
  • American Petroleum
    As much oil as the US produces, it isn't nearly enough

  • The United States produces around 16% of the world’s oil.[1]
  • There are two “supergiant” oil fields in the United States, one in Alaska and one in Texas.[1]
  • While petroleum is a natural substance that takes millions of years to form, a petroleum product is any fuel that has been produced from hydrocarbons and can be made not only from crude oil but also from natural gas, coal, or biomass.[6]
  • From 1907, when liquid petroleum was first discovered in Iran, the Middle East has steadily grown as an important global source of oil. Experts predict that, regardless of the development of alternative sources of energy, Middle Eastern oil will continue on its upward trajectory for at least 15 more years.[9]
  • Middle Eastern oil profits were used in the creation of both the Taliban and Al-Qaeda terrorist groups.[9]
  • Fossil Fuels
    Our cars run on eons-old remains
  • Petroleum is referred to as a “fossil fuel” because it is made up of hydrocarbons that were originally formed from the remains of ancient plants and animals. Millions of years of underground heat and pressure acted on these hydrocarbons to turn them into petroleum.[6]
  • Petroleum is formed from the fossils of plants and animals that pre-date the dinosaurs.[6]
  • Oil refining is the process of separating different parts of crude oil into various petroleum products.[6]
  • Products that can be made from refined petroleum include gasoline, diesel fuel, heating oil, jet fuel, wax, lubricating oils, and asphalt. Petroleum is also used to produce “petrochemical feedstocks,” which are used to make plastics and other chemicals.[6]
  • A 42-gallon barrel of crude oil actually yields around 45 gallons of petroleum product, thanks to “processing gain,” a phenomenon that occurs when the product of a material has a lower specific gravity than it did in its unrefined form.[6]
  • So-called “oil reservoirs” in which petroleum is found are actually underground rock formations with microscopic droplets of crude oil trapped in the pores and spaces between the rocks.[2]
  • Movies featuring oil production as a major part of the plot include Armageddon, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, and There Will Be Blood, which is based on the fiction book Oil! by Upton Sinclair.[4]
  • The 2010 Deepwater Horizon catastrophe is the world’s largest accidental oil spill to date.[5]
  • Deepwater Horizon Spill
    It is estimated that the Deepwater Horizon spill killed over 80,000 birds, 25,000 marine mammals and untold numbers of fish

  • Saddam Hussein was responsible for the largest oil spill in history. In 1991, during the Persian Gulf War, he ordered the opening of oil valves on the Sea Island Pipeline, releasing oil in an attempt to slow the advance of the Unites States military.[5]
  • Carlos Andres Perez, a past president of Venezuela and founding member of the modern oil industry, once said, “Oil is the devil’s excrement.”[5]
  • The countries that produce the most oil are Saudi Arabia, the United States, Russia, Iran, and China.[2]
  • Even though the United States produces more oil than almost any other nation, it consumes an even greater amount, to the extent that almost 60% of oil used in America is imported from other nations.[2]
  • Petroleum Uses
    Petroleum is a mainstay of commercial manufacturing
  • Petroleum is used in the production of a variety of common household goods, such as crayons, deodorant, dishwashing liquids, and eyeglasses.[2]
  • Initially, finding the right place to successfully drill for oil was largely the result of guesswork and persistence. Scientists have since discovered a more effective method that involves measuring the speed of sound waves as they pass through rocks underground.[2]
  • When a well is drilled into an oil reservoir, it releases pressure that drives oil up the well to the surface. This pressure is the result of millions of tons of rocks weighing down on the tiny petroleum droplets; it is so forceful that it can cause oil to spurt hundreds of feet into the air in what is known as a “gusher.”[2]
  • Since 1975, it has been the policy of the United States to maintain an oil reserve. Today there are four active reserve sites with the combined capacity to store 727 million barrels, making America the owner of the largest stockpile of emergency oil in the world.[2]
  • Even though Venezuela has the largest reserves of oil fields in the world, the country has undergone several gasoline shortages in recent years due to a combination of factors arising in relation to the socialist Venezuelan government’s management of oil.[3]
  • Although the discovery of new oil fields and the changing rate of extraction make it difficult to predict, many researchers agree it is likely the world will run out of petroleum anywhere from 50 to 100 years from now.[7]
  • If the world simultaneously burned the oil in all currently known reserves, it would emit nearly 750 billion tonnes of carbon. This number is more than twice the amount of carbon the UN currently believes will result in a global temperature rise high enough to trigger extreme global warming.[7]
  • Many environmentalists believe that in order to avoid severe global warming, 75 to 80% of the world’s current oil reserves must remain unused.[7]
  • Informative Petroleum INFOGRAPHIC
    Petroleum Infographic Thumbnail

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