Oil and Gas Basics
Everyday we use products made from crude oil and natural gas. Some of these products are rather obvious like the gasoline we use in our cars and trucks and the natural gas we burn to heat our homes. However, there are many other products that we consume that most people never think of coming from oil and gas.
Please see There's a Lot of life in oil and gas publication by the American Petroleum Institute
Natural Gas Does More than Heat Our Homes
Let's start with natural gas. Natural gas produced from beneath the earth's surface is transported by a system of pipelines to consumers. The gas is burned to produce energy to heat homes, business, and industrial plants. Natural gas is also used to dry clothes and cook food.
Industries use natural gas to provide energy for various manufacturing processes. Automobile plants use natural gas to heat air to dry paint on cars and trucks. Food companies use natural gas to dry products like potato chips and pretzels. Industrial users also burn natural gas to produce steam for various operations.
Utility companies use natural gas to produce electricity. Natural gas is burned to produce steam, which drives turbines to generate electricity. So not only does natural gas keep us warm in the winter, it also helps keep us cool in the summer.
Natural gas is also being used as a transportation fuel. Compressed natural gas or CNG is used in government and company car and van fleets.
Oil and gas companies obtain other products from natural gas that help improve our lives. Natural gas contains compounds that are removed before the gas is sent to customers. Three important chemicals are obtained from natural gas: ethane, propane, and butane. Ethane is a raw material in the petrochemical industry. Ethane is processed to make ethylene that is used to manufacture polyethylene. Polyethylene is a plastic that is used in a variety of products including house wares, insulation, packaging films, and toys. Ethylene is used to manufacture ethylene oxide which is a raw material to make ethylene glycol or anti-freeze for car and truck radiators. Ethylene oxide is used to prepare polyester fibers, film and latex paints. Ethylene is combined with chlorine to make vinyl chloride. Vinyl chloride is used to make polyvinyl chloride or PVC for pipes. Ethylene is a raw material to manufacture vinyl acetate for paints and adhesives. Polystyrene manufactured from ethylene is used to make resins for rubber. Ethanol is also produced from ethylene.
Propane and butane from natural are blended to produce LPG for cooking and heating. Propane and butane are also used to manufacture the chemical building blocks: propylene and butylene. Propylene oxide produced from propylene is used to sterilize medical and food products and to manufacture surfactants. Propylene glycol, made from propylene, is used as a moisturizer in skin care lotions and cream. Propylene glycol is used as industrial antifreeze and as hydraulic and brake fluid. Butylene is an important chemical used in manufacturing products that improve the quality of gasoline. LPG is also being used in transportation.
Natural gas is a raw material to make ammonia for agricultural fertilizer. Carbon black, which is used to reinforce rubber and make ink and batteries, comes from natural gas. Paints use lamp black formed from natural gas for tinting. Sulfur impurities contained in natural gas are removed to obtain raw materials for agricultural chemicals.
Crude Oil Products Keep Us Moving
Crude oil is a liquid that comes from reservoirs below the earth's surface. It is called crude oil because it must be processed or "refined" into useable products like gasoline. Crude contains many different compounds with different properties. When these compounds are separated, they produce refined products.
The most important refined product is gasoline. Gasoline is burned in car and truck engines. Gasoline is also the most visible product produced by the oil and gas industry because of the presence of service stations and the importance of the automobile in American life. Think what your day would be like without gasoline.
No way to get to work, school, shopping plazas, movies, amusement parks, and beaches. The partnership between the automobile industry and the oil and gas industry has transformed the American lifestyle and given us greater freedom.
The next most important products from crude oil are home heating oil and diesel fuel. These are the same products except for some minor differences. Home heating oil is used to heat homes. Diesel fuel is used for fuel in truck, bus, train, and ship engines. Diesel fuel is one of the most important fuels in the world's economy because it provides energy to transport products from manufacturers to consumers.
Crude oil is also the source of jet fuel for airlines. Jet fuel allows us to move passengers and freight around the world in a fast and efficient manner. Jet fuel has helped to shrink the earth, allowed us to visit friends and family, and make new acquaintances all over the world.
Residual fuel oil is used for boiler fuel to power industrial plants. These boilers produce steam, heat, and electricity for use in manufacturing processes. Residual fuel is also use as bunker fuel in large ocean-going tankers.
Not only does crude oil provide the fuels that power engines it also produces the lubricants that reduce friction and the wear on the engine parts. Lubricants are used in car and truck motors, airplane engines, railroad engines, and turbines for power plants. Lubricants are also used to make salves, ointments, and cosmetics.
In addition to supplying the fuel used to transport people and products, crude oil also provides the asphalt to pave roads.
Petroleum coke from crude oil is used to make electrodes to produce aluminum and as a raw material to manufacture steel.
Aromatic compounds from crude oil such as benzene, toluene, and xylene are important chemical building blocks and are used to manufacture plastics, agricultural chemicals and pharmaceuticals.
Oil and Gas Keep the World Running
The products made from crude oil and natural gas really do keep the world running and improve our lifestyle and standard of living. Where would we be without these products? Oil and gas have allowed us to...
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Crude oil is a liquid that comes from reservoirs below the earth's surface. It is called crude oil because it must be processed or "refined" into useable products like gasoline. Natural gas is a gas or vapor that is also stored in reservoirs below the ground. Crude oil is often called petroleum.
Crude oil and natural gas are composed of molecules containing carbon and hydrogen atoms. Hydrogen is most commonly found in water which is composed of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. The chemical formula for water is written as H2O. The carbon atom, represented by the letter C, is found in the mineral coal or in the carbon dioxide which we exhale when we breathe. Carbon dioxide is composed of two atoms of oxygen and one atom of carbon. The chemical formula for carbon dioxide is written as CO2.
Molecules that are formed by the union of carbon and hydrogen atoms are called hydrocarbons ("hydrogen" and "carbons"). Large hydrocarbon molecules, such as those found in petroleum, are formed by joining or bonding of many hydrogen and carbon atoms. The properties of these hydrocarbons depend upon the number of and arrangement of the carbon atoms in their molecules. Crude oil is composed of not just one molecule but a mixture of many molecules composed of different numbers of carbon and hydrogen atoms.
The simplest hydrocarbon is composed of one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms, CH4. This molecule is called methane and is the principal component of natural gas. Methane has a boiling point of -259 oF. and produces 1,011 Btus of energy per cubic foot when it is burned.
As more carbon atoms are added to the methane molecule, a carbon chain, C-C, starts to form. The next molecule in the series is ethane which has two carbons and six hydrogen atoms, C2H6. Ethane is a very important chemical because it is used to make ethylene.
Ethylene is composed of two carbon atoms but only four hydrogen atoms. The difference between these two molecules is that in the case of ethane the carbon atoms are tied together with a single atomic bond while in the case of ethylene the carbon atoms are joined by a double bond.
Compounds consisting solely of carbon and hydrogen atoms joined together by single bonds are called saturated hydrocarbons. Those that are tied together by double bonds are called unsaturated. Ethylene is an important chemical building block used to make plastics such as polyvinyl chloride for PVC piping, ethylene glycol for automotive antifreeze, and acetic acid for medicine.
As more carbon atoms are added, the molecule's weight and properties change. A hydrocarbon with three carbon atoms is called propane, C3H8, which is used for heating, cooking and manufacturing chemicals. Many of us have had hamburgers and hot dogs cooked on propane grills.
Four carbon atom chains form butane, C4H10, molecules. Butane is used to make gasoline, prepare chemicals and provide energy for heating and cooking.
As we add more carbons the hydrocarbon becomes heavier and heavier and its properties change. We move from methane which is a gas to hexane which is a liquid. The components of crude oil include heavier hydrocarbons. We separate crude oil into fractions by distillation. As the hydrocarbons become heavier their boiling point increases and they produce more heat when they are burned. In distillation, fractions boiling at different temperatures are separated. Ethane boils at lower temperature than hexane. The distillation process allows use to refine crude oil into its different fractions to produce products like gasoline, jet fuel, diesel oil, home heating oil, residual fuel oil, lubricating oils, and asphalt.
Carbon atoms linked together in chains are called paraffins. Paraffin chains can have from one to one hundred carbon atoms. Paraffins having four or more carbon atoms can have different structures. The carbon atoms can be in a straight chain or form branches off of the main chain. The more carbon atoms that a paraffin contains the more form different structures it can contain. These different structures of the same compound are called isomers. Isomers have different properties. The butane molecule can be straight chain (normal or n-butane) and branched chain (iso or i-butane). Paraffins are also known as saturated hydrocarbons because they have the maximum number of hydrogen atoms.
Olefins are chains of carbon atoms which include two carbon atoms attached with a double bond. These compounds are called unsaturated because they do not have the maximum number of hydrogen atoms. Olefins are not present in crude oil or natural gas but are formed when crude oil is processed in a refinery.
When the carbon chains contain five or more carbon atoms, the carbons can form "rings" or "circles." These cyclic compounds are called cycloparaffins or naphthenes. The most common cycloparaffins is cyclohexane, C6H12, which is composed of six carbons joined together in the shape of a hexagon.
These cyclical compounds can be modified even further by removing some hydrogen atoms and joining some of the carbon atoms with double bonds to form aromatics. Benzene, C6H6, is formed by removing six hydrogen atoms from cyclohexane. The most important aromatics are benzene, toluene, and xylene.
Petroleum can also contain molecules containing oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, and metals. Crude oil can contain up to 2% oxygen and 1% nitrogen. Petroleum also contains sulfur compounds that must be removed. The sulfur level can be as high as 5%. Sulfur compounds in crude oil give the oil a distinctive sour odor. Therefore if a crude contains high levels of sulfur, it is called a sour crude and if it has little or no sulfur it is called a sweet crude. Crude oil also contains metals such as nickel and vanadium. Natural gas contains sulfur, oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide that are removed before the gas is sold.
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Check out the following references to learn more about products made from oil and gas and the compounds in crude oil and natural gas:
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