• How Is Crude Oil Formed?

Fuel for Thought

How Is Crude Oil Formed?

Jul 28 2014

Oil has come to be a vital commodity in today’s society. We use it to power our vehicles, to heat our homes, to fertilize our plants, to create the plastic used to package our products. Indeed, a world without oil is barely conceivable. But how did it come into being?

A Long Time Ago…

The history of the formation of oil is one that stretches back over hundreds of millions of years. Roughly 300-400 million years ago, the oil that we so nonchalantly use today began its life as innumerable microscopic plants and animals living in the sea. Throughout their lives, these organisms absorbed sunlight and the energy transmitted by it, which they unwittingly stored in their bodies in the form of carbon molecules. Once their lives had run their course, they died and fell to the bottom of the ocean bed.

Over time, they formed layer upon layer of microscopic bacteria due to the steady accumulation of dead plant and animal forms. They were covered by layers of silt, sand and other dead organisms, which forced them ever deeper under the surface of the ocean. As the depth of their burial grew deeper, the pressure upon their bodies increased and the heat surrounding them rose as well. All of these factors combined to convert their bodies into oil, or natural gas, depending upon the variety of biomass concerned, the temperature of heat and the level of pressure.

Once this oil and gas was formed, it would do its best to force its way to the surface of the water through tiny pores in the surfaces of the rocks and clay that covered it. Some of it made it out and through to the surface, escaping to the surface. But much of it didn’t. The remaining trapped oil is what we mine today and use as oil and natural gas.

Crude Oil Sustainability

We have relied upon oil and gas to create the energy needed to power our daily lives for a substantial period of time. However, the concerns about oil shortages and the likelihood that one day it will run out completely has led scientists to pursue innovative avenues of oil formation.

New Avenues

One such avenue is through the production of biodiesel. The news story, Microalgae Could Produce The Next Biodiesel, examines in detail the experiments undertaken by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) University to produce a clean, viable and cheap alternative to traditional petroleum (a term for rock oil).

Another relatively new method of extracting energy trapped inside rocks is hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as “fracking”. This method works to produce shale oil and gas, thus alleviating the fears of running out of our precious fuel sources, at least for a while. For more information on the technique’s growing success in the United States, read this article: Shale Plays Offer Unprecedented Opportunities. It looks at how shale can go a long way to providing a bridge between fossil fuels and a more sustainable source of energy.


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