From OPEC to U.S. shale, from fracking to negative oil prices, from endless political debates to inventories, the fossil fuel industry is never short on headlines. But even if you thought you knew a lot about oil; here are 10 things that might surprise you.
1) Oil Seeps
A fair amount of the oil floating around in the ocean got there honestly, by a natural phenomenon known as oil seeps. No one wants oil companies leaking or spilling oil into the ocean, but according to a 2003 report from the National Research Council, 160,000 tonnes are leaked into North American waters each year through these seeps. The area most susceptible happens to be eco-friendly California, where seeps leak 5 million gallons of oil into the ocean each year. Some slicks caused by these seeps are even visible via satellite and can form miles-long lines of oil.
2) Stop sneezing
Oil and gas have thousands of uses other than transportation and energy. There are about 6,000 different products that are made with oil and gas. Kevlar and Velcro, toilet seats and shower curtains are all made with oil and gas. But without oil, you also wouldn’t have antihistamines, which would make the world a miserable place. Soap, aspirin, hearing aids, contact lenses, and hair dye are just a few more products that rely on oil and gas.
3) Caped Crusader
Number 3 on our list was not inspired by DC Comics, but did you know there is a Batman refinery. It gets its name not from the Caped Crusader, but because of its location in Batman, Turkey. Batman in Turkish means “sunken”, and the town was named that because it often floods.
4) 18 quintillion litres!
If you know your oil producers, you probably already knew that Venezuela is home to the biggest oil reserves of any country. But did you know that their reserves of 304 billion barrels of oil are enough to supply the entire world with oil for 8.5 years? That’s over 18 quintillion litres of oil, which could fill the Baltic Sea more than twice over.
5) Standard Oil
In 1911 the oil business in the United States was changed forever when antitrust issues caused the goliath that was Standard Oil was broken up into many different companies. But it might surprise you to learn that many of those companies have since merged among themselves, with almost all now part of either BP, Chevron or ExxonMobil.
6) More Popcorn
According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), each 42-gallon barrel of crude oil actually yields 45 gallons of petroleum products due to “processing gain”. This is also called the “popcorn phenomenon” as it gets bigger when you pop it.
7) Bamboo Poles
China might be scouring the rest of the world for oil as its own resources are tricky to get to, but China has been in the oil-search game for more than a millennium. The first known wells ever were drilled in China. In 347 AD, oil wells in China were drilled using bamboo poles. Some of those wells were nearly 800 feet deep!
8) Supply and Demand
OPEC manipulates world oil prices by restricting supply because it produces nearly 40% of the world’s oil. And whether you refer to them as an oil cartel or merely as a group, OPEC undeniably plays a pivotal role in moving the oil markets on a global scale. It might be shocking to consider just how much of the world’s oil OPEC members have found. Of the 20 largest oilfields in the history of the world, OPEC members are responsible for 14 of them. Of the world’s top 5 largest oilfields, all are in the hands of OPEC members, from Saudi Arabia to Kuwait, from Iran to Venezuela. The only non OPEC member that has one of the top 10 oilfields is Kazakhstan.
9) Who Killed J.R.? Why Dallas Texas is important....
The U.S. states of Texas and North Dakota, combined, produce more crude oil than any other country on the planet except the United States, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. If Texas were a country, it would be the world’s 4th largest oil producer, excluding the United States. In 2020, Texas singlehandedly produced an average of 4.869 million bpd--more crude oil than every country except Saudi Arabia, Russia, Canada. China (and of course the United States).
10) What's with Barrels?
Despite the common measurement in barrels, no one moves oil in physical barrels, but they used to! Measuring oil in terms of barrels comes from the United States. In Pennsylvania in the 1800s, oil was initally stored in whatever was handy, like jars, but as the industry began to take off, it needed something bigger to store, sell and cart the oil around in. They settled on the 42 gallon barrel merely because, at the time, whisky was stored in barrels and the barrel seemed like a perfect fit for the valuable liquid the oil industry produced too. And the seemingly random 42-gallon volume was picked because sellers would base the sale on 40 gallons and add an extra two gallons in for good measure to compensate for what would spill during transit.