What is it and how is it made?
Petroleum naturally occurs beneath the surface of the earth. It is a yellow to black liquid that is collected through oil drilling in order to be refined into fuel. When intense pressure and heat is applied to large quantities of dead organisms buried beneath sedimentary rock, petroleum is formed as a result. Since it is derived from ancient, fossilized organisms such as algae and zoolplankton, petroleum is considered a fossil fuel.
What is it used for?
Petroleum is most commonly associated with the production of gasoline but it is also involved in the production of other consumer goods such as kerosene, asphalt, fertilizers, solvents, pesticides, plastics, and even some pharmaceuticals.
Which countries use and produce the most petroleum?
Every day, the world consumes an estimated 90 million barrels of petroleum! The top 10 consumers in the world from greatest to least are: United States, China, Japan, India, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Germany, Canada, and South Korea. The top producing countries include Saudi Arabia, Russia, and the United States, respectively.
Ethanol: This renewable fuel is an alcohol made from plant materials such as grasses, corn, and sugar cane. The use of ethanol as fuel has increased dramatically in the United States within the last 10 years because using ethanol can help reduce oil dependency and greenhouse gas emissions. Although it varies by region, most of the gasoline sold in the United States contains up to 10% ethanol.
Natural Gas: Comprised mostly of methane, this fossil fuel is one of the cleanest burning fuels. There are two forms of natural gas used to fuel cars: compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG). It is less expensive than gasoline and produces significantly less smog-producing pollutants. However, the downside is that is less readily available than gasoline and gets fewer miles on a tank.
Propane: Not just for grills, propane can also be used to power internal combustion engines without degrading vehicle performance. This fossil fuel is typically less expensive that gasoline and also produces lower amounts of harmful emissions. But like natural gas, propane gets fewer miles on a tank of fuel and isn’t as readily available.
Hydrogen: This environmentally-friendly fuel can be used in fuel cells to power electric motors or it can be burned in an internal combustion engine. The benefits of hydrogen is that is can be produced domestically and it doesn’t produce any air pollutants or greenhouse gases.
Gas prices are constantly fluctuating and unfortunately, the tendency for prices to go up is greater than the tendency for them to go down. As drivers, it can be extremely frustrating trying to understand why the price of gas is constantly changing.
The reasons for these fluctuations are complex, but the biggest factor that affects gas prices is the global demand for crude oil. As more and more drivers hit the roads globally, the demand for oil becomes greater than the supply. But the supply and demand chain isn’t just affected by the number of people fueling up at the pump.
Natural disasters, geopolitical issues, the season, and OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) all play a role in the global oil market. OPEC manipulates the supply and demand for oil by slowing down production in order to maintain the prices they want.
Gas prices also have a tendency to increase during the summer months for several reasons. For one, summer-grade gas, which is designed to reduce smog and pollution, is more expensive to produce than winter-grade gas. Also, refineries are temporarily closed down in the summer for maintenance. The gasoline supply can also be disrupted by natural disasters such as hurricanes, which can adversely affect both refineries and offshore drilling rigs.
With the advent of more fuel efficient cars and an increased focus on finding alternative energy sources, it’s hard to predict what gas prices will look like in the future—but let’s hope they’re not too outrageous.
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