Petroleum is a fossil fuel that is found in geological formations beneath the Earth's surface. The naturally occurring petroleum is a yellow-to-black liquid that is refined to produce various types of fuels. The term petroleum covers unprocessed crude oil and petroleum products that consist of refined crude oil. It includes crude oil, natural gas plant liquids, liquefied refinery gases, and refined petroleum products such as gasoline and diesel.
Since the drilling of first petroleum, the commodity has emerged as an important part of our life. It has been used as fuel for our transport, a fuel to generate electricity to light our homes, run factories and machines, a raw material to produce fertiliser to increase food production and produce plastic which is used in a wide range of things we use in daily life.
In addition, petrochemical products are used to produce the entire spectrum of daily use items across various industries, including automotive, agriculture, textiles, construction, electronics and electrical, household items, medical appliances, packaging and pharmaceutical. According to research and consulting firm GlobalData, the global petrochemicals capacity is expected to grow from 1,457 million metric tons per annum (mmtpa) in 2015 to 1,735 mmtpa by 2020.
The countries having the largest petroleum reserves include Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Russia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Libya, and Nigeria. With an oil consumption of 19.6mbd in 2016, the US is the world’s biggest oil consuming country. The introduction of new technologies for exploration and production activities in the oil and gas industry has helped many companies to witness a multi-fold increase in their petroleum output. However, the production of petroleum is concentrated in some of the Middle East countries to a large extent.
Transportation: Petroleum is a key source of energy for transportation. Nearly two-thirds of transportation fuels are obtained from petroleum. The transportation fuels that are derived from petroleum include gasoline/petrol, diesel, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), jet fuel, and marine fuel. While gasoline/petrol is used in cars, motorcycles, light trucks, and boats, diesel is used as fuel by trucks, buses, trains, boats and ships. Jet airplanes and some types of helicopters use kerosene, a byproduct of petroleum refining. Gasoline is the dominant transportation fuel in the US, accounting for 55% of total transportation energy use in the country in 2016, according to the US Energy Information Department.
Image: An oil refinery in Mina-Al-Ahmadi, Kuwait. Photo courtesy of Lokantha at English Wikipedia.
Power generation: Though petroleum is largely used in transportation, it is also used in electricity generation. A fossil fuel power station uses petroleum or natural gas to produce electricity. Power generation from oil still accounts for a significant share in energy mix of many countries, even though coal is the dominant source for electricity generation. However, oil-fired power plants cause significant environmental pollution. Oil-fired power plants also consume huge amounts of water. According to the Joint Organizations Data Initiative (JODI), Saudi Arabia is one of the few countries that use crude oil directly for power generation, due to lack of domestic coal production.
Lubricants: Derived from petroleum, lubricants are used in many types of machines in almost all the industries. Lubricants are used in all kinds of vehicles and industrial machines to reduce friction. Besides, they are used in cooking, bioapplications on humans, ultrasound examination, and medical examinations. Lubricants typically contain 90% of base oil, usually petroleum fractions.
Image: SIGAUS Used industrial oil recycling. Photo courtesy of SIGAUS/Wikipedia.
Pharmaceuticals: Petroleum byproducts such as mineral oil and petrolatum are used in the manufacture of creams and topical pharmaceuticals. Though most of the pharmaceuticals consist of complex organic molecules, the basis, however, is linked to simple organic molecules, which are mostly petroleum byproducts.
Agriculture: Petroleum is used in the production of ammonia, which is used as a source of nitrogen in agricultural fertilizers. To achieve high crop yields, pesticides are widely in agricultural sector. Most of the pesticides are produced from petroleum. Besides, machinery for agricultural tasks also consume petroleum. In this way, agriculture is one of the major users of petroleum.
Chemical industry: Petroleum by-products are used by many chemical companies as raw materials. They are used in the manufacture of chemical fertiliser, synthetic fiber, synthetic rubber, nylon, plastics, pesticides and insecticides, perfumes, and dyes, paints, among others. Refining of crude oil results in the production of several by-products, which are used in making different products for household and industrial purposes. Major by-products of petroleum include plastic, detergents, neptha, grease, vaseline, wax, and butadine, among others.
Image: Prills of paraffin wax. Photo courtesy of Gmhofmann/Wikipedia.
Domestic uses: Many household products such as detergents, vaseline, wax, and others are derived from petroleum. Kerosene, a byproduct of petroleum, still used in many countries for cooking, lighting and other domestic purposes.