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Uses of Petroleum

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Uses of Petroleum

Petroleum products are used widely in our everyday lives. They are used to power automobiles produce containers and to keep us warm. Petroleum, or crude oil is liquid composed of various organic chemicals. It is found in large quantities below the surface of Earth and is used as a fuel and as a raw material in the chemical industry. The word petroleum comes from the two Latin words “petro” and “leum” “petro” meaning rock and “leum” meaning oil. The chemical composition of all petroleum is principally hydrocarbons which are a family of organic compounds, composed entirely of carbon and hydrogen. Petroleum is formed under Earth’s surface by the decomposition of organisms.

The remains of tiny organisms that live in the sea are trapped with the sands and silts that settle to the bottom in sea basins. These deposits become the source rocks for the generation of crude oil. The process began many millions of years ago with the development of abundant life, and it continues to this day. The sediments grow thicker and sink into the seafloor under their own weight. As additional deposits pile up, the pressure on the ones below increases several thousand times, and the temperature rises by several hundred degrees. The mud and sand harden into shale and sandstone and the remains of the dead organisms are transformed into crude oil and natural gas. Surface deposits of crude oil have been known to humans for thousands of years. In the areas where they occurred, they were long used for limited purposes, such as caulking boats, waterproofing cloth, and fueling torches. By the time the Renaissance began in the 14th century, some surface deposits were being distilled to obtain lubricants and medicinal products, but the real exploitation of crude oil did not begin until the 19th century. The Industrial Revolution had by then brought about a search for new fuels, and the social changes it effected had produced a need for good, cheap oil for lamps; people wished to be able to work and read after dark. Once petroleum forms, it flows upward in Earth’s crust because it has a lower density than the brines that saturate the interstices of the sands and carbonate rocks that constitute the crust of Earth. The crude oil and natural gas rise into the pores of the coarser sediments lying above. For several years people had known that wells drilled for water and salt were occasionally infiltrated by petroleum, so the concept of drilling for crude oil itself soon followed. The first such wells were dug in Germany from 1857 to 1859, but the event that gained world fame was the drilling of an oil well near Oil Creek, Pennsylvania, by Edwin L. Drake in 1859.

Drake drilled to find the supposed “mother pool” from which the oil seeps of Titusville Pennsylvania were assumed to be emanating. The reservoir Drake tapped was shallow and the petroleum was a paraffin type that flowed readily and was easy to distill. Drake’s success marked the beginning of the rapid growth of the modern petroleum industry. With the invention of the automobile and the energy needs brought on by World War I, the petroleum industry became one of the foundations of industrial society.

Today four main by-products are derived from petroleum. These by-products are oil, coal, gas, and plastics. According to the US Energy Information Administration, in 1998 the United States was the largest producer of coal, producing 23.82 quadrillion BTU. The largest consuming country was China who consumes 22.35 BTU of coal yearly. The United States was in a close second with 21.67 BTU consumed. Although authentic records are unavailable, historians believe coal was first used commercially in China. In the early 18th century the demand for coal escalated when English iron founders John Wilkinson and Abraham Darby used coal to manufacture iron. An almost insatiable demand for coal was created by successive metallurgical and engineering developments, most notably the invention of the coal-burning steam engine by Scottish mechanical engineer James Watt in 1769. Until the American Revolution most of the coal consumed by the American colonies was imported from England or Nova Scotia. Wartime shortages and the need to manufacture munitions spurred the formation of small American coal-mining companies that mined Virginia’s Appalachian bituminous field and other deposits. The construction of the first practical locomotive in 1804 in England by British engineer Richard Trevithick sparked a tremendous demand for coal. The growth of the railroad industry and the subsequent rise of the steel industry in the 19th century spurred enormous growth in the coal industry in the United States and Europe.

The widespread use of petroleum as a fuel before, during, and after World War I eventually reduced the demand for coal. The change from coal to oil as

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