What Is in a Barrel of Oil?
Whether you're watching CNN discuss the effects of the recent oil spill in the gulf, or you're watching MSNBC discuss how the price of oil has shifted throughout the month, you probably hear them use the term "barrel," which defines oil in volume. Not being literate in the language of fossil fuels, I had no idea just how much gasoline was contained in a barrel. Much to my surprise, my guess of 50 gallons of gasoline was way, way off.
A barrel of crude oil is 42 gallons, which is the standard measurement in the United States. Now, this is just a way of measuring crude oil, as it has not been delivered in anything but huge tanker vessels for several decades. This measurement device originated in Pennsylvania way back when crude oil was packaged in barrels. Rather than changing to a different unit of measurement, it is easier to keep the original barrel standard.
Typically, 42 gallons of crude oil will produce 44 gallons of petroleum distillate products. Yes, there is actually a gain in processing of a little more than 2 gallons. The breakdown of distilled products is as follows:
- Gasoline — 19.5 gallons
- Distillate fuel (heating oil, diesel fuel) — 9.2 gallons
- Kerosene/Jet fuel — 4.1 gallons
- Residual fuel oil (heavy oils and fuels for industry) — 2.3 gallons
- Liquefied refinery gasses (ethane, propane, butane, isobutene) — 1.9 gallons
- Still gas (methane, ethane, ethylene, butane, butylenes propane, propylene) — 1.9 gallons
- Coke — 1.8 gallons
- Asphalt and road oil — 1.3 gallons
- Petrochemical feedstocks — 1.2 gallons
- Lubricants — 0.5 gallons
- Kerosene — 0.2 gallons
- Other — 0.3 gallons
As you can see, a great deal of petroleum products is created from one 42-gallon barrel of crude oil, and these items are generally produced during one processing cycle of creating gasoline. That's right, most all of these products are the remnants of turning crude oil into gasoline — otherwise known as by-products. So many of the petroleum products used for home heating, diesel engines, airplanes, heavy manufacturing are derived from the production of gasoline. Basically, what would otherwise be thrown away have become important necessities in our daily lives.
Now, after understanding what is created from one 42 gallon barrel of crude oil, I realize how difficult it will be to become fossil-fuel independent with the use of alternative fuel vehicles and energy production. Crude oil distillation products have permeated every aspect of our lives. Being able to rid ourselves of its use will be an arduous task.