Many years ago, when most people got their water directly from wells under the ground, they were sometimes annoyed by a dark liquid which came out of the ground and contaminated the water. It smelled bad and was extremely dirty. Some people discovered that it was good for caulking boats – it prevented water from getting in through the cracks in the wood.

Others found it was a good medicine for the stomach. However, most people didn’t like it. Today, we have a rather different opinion on this substance known as crude oil. In 1855, a young teacher at Yale University, Benjamin Silliman, became interested in crude oil. He soon found that it could be used as a fuel for heating and lighting. After the first oil well started production, the age of oil was just around the corner.

Crude oil breaks down
How the barrel – crude oil break down


Today, LP. Getty and Howard Hughes, two of the richest men in the world, both have fortunes based on oil – the former on the Standard Oil Co. and the latter on a highly efficient oil-drilling bit. The first oil from the sea was produced some decades ago by the off-shore drilling rigs in Maracaiba Bay, Venezuela.

There, the water is shallow and the oil is very near the surface. The tropical forest comes right down to the water’s edge, and today it seems to continue into the sea. The oil is quite easy to get out in this area, but men are now also drilling in more difficult areas like the cold, deep North Sea between Great Britain and Norway.

Distillation Column of Crude Oil
Crude Oil Distillation Column


The petroleum which comes out of the ground cannot really be used for anything. It must first be refined. Refineries are huge ‘factories’ where crude oil is separated into ‘fractions’, which are commonly known as gasoline, kerosene, diesel oil, lubricating oil and fuel oil. Then, these fractions must be distributed by pipeline or tanker to the final distributors, such as petrol stations, which sell them to the users.

Every person in industrial societies depends on crude oil. Its  fractions provide fuel for electricity generators, power for vehicles, heat for homes and materials for clothing. In the future, we may use some of its fractions to produce food. The question is: how long will the world’s reserves of crude oil last? We use more and more oil every year.

A Barrel of Crude Oil
Producs made from a Barrel of Crude Oil ( Gallons )

Crude oil is a  non-renewable resource and one day it will probably run out. Many things will be different when this happens, but the most interesting and important question is what alternative sources of energy will be successfully developed.



A. What do the following refer to?
1. “if (line 6):
2. ‘both’ (line 13):
3. There’ (line 17):
4. ‘this’ (line 36):
B. What do the following mean?
1. ‘caulking’ (line 5):
2. ‘crude oil* (line 25):
1. Why were people annoyed by the dark liquid in their wells?
2. What was crude oil used for before 1855?

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