What is Petroleum?

What Does Petroleum Mean

We explain what oil is, its origin and how this hydrocarbon is formed. In addition, its properties and various uses.

Oil is a non-renewable natural resource.

What is Petroleum?

Petroleum is called a bituminous substance, dark in color and viscous texture , composed of a mixture of organic hydrocarbons insoluble in water , also known as black or crude gold . Its physical properties ( color , density ) can be diverse, depending on the concentration of hydrocarbons present, which includes the following:

  • Paraffins (saturated hydrocarbons).
  • Oleifins (ethylenic hydrocarbons that contain a carbon-carbon double bond).
  • Acetylenic hydrocarbons (contain a carbon-carbon triple bond).
  • Cyclic or cyclonic hydrocarbons.
  • Benzene or aromatic hydrocarbons.
  • Oxygenated compounds (derived from ethylenic hydrocarbons by oxidation and polymerization).
  • Sulfur compounds.
  • Cyclic nitrogen compounds.
  • Dissolved content of nitrogen, sulfur, oxygen, cholesterol, porphyrins and traces of nickel, vanadium, nickel , cobalt and molybdenum.

Given its complex chemical composition, oil is a non-renewable natural resource of enormous economic value. It is used as a raw material for the production of various organic materials (obtained in the petrochemical industry), of various solvents and above all, it is used as a fossil fuel to generate electricity and other types of energy .

For this reason, it is massively extracted from its place of formation: the subsoil. Through extraction facilities known as wells, their deposits (usually close to those of natural gas ) are located in the lower layers of the subsoil, and the liquid is extracted using various techniques, according to the nature of the soil and the geographical disposition, which It can be on land, or on the seabed or of rivers, lakes, etc.

The commercialization of oil is the main economic activity of many countries such as Venezuela , Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iraq or Iran, most of which organize their oil production around the guidelines of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) founded in 1960 and currently based in Vienna, Austria.

It can serve you: Alternative energies

Origin of oil

Oil is due to the accumulation of organic matter millions of years ago.

Oil is considered a hydrocarbon of fossil origin , that is, it is due to the accumulation of large amounts of organic matter millions of years ago, such as zooplankton (plankton of animal origin that feed on processed organic matter) and algae from lacustrine regions (lakes or fresh water reservoirs) dried up over the centuries, whose anoxic bottoms (without oxygen) were buried under layers of sediment.

Under these conditions, the pressure and heat would have originated chemical and physical transformation processes (natural cracking) that would produce various substances: bitumen, natural gases and other hydrocarbons such as oil.

There is also another theory about its origin, which is attributed to abiogenetic sources (not from organic matter). This theory is not completely ruled out, but it has the support of the minority of scholars on the subject, given that it cannot explain many of the contents present in oil without the prior presence of living beings .

How is oil formed?

The formation of oil is linked to geological traps.

The chemical processes of oil formation are quite complex and are linked to geological traps (oil traps), which are subsurface structures conducive to the accumulation of oil, since they keep it trapped and without the possibility of escaping into the pores of a rock. permeable underground (storage rock), or other similar structures. This is how oil fields arise.

The oil formation process is related to the decomposition of organic matter over millions of years. Organic matter will undergo an increase in temperature and pressure due to the layers of sediment deposited on it. All this process that organic matter undergoes until it becomes oil can be divided into several phases:

  • Diagenesis (anaerobic decomposition). At certain depths of the earth's surface there is no abundant oxygen, due to what are anaerobic bacteria that decompose organic matter until it is transformed into kerogen (a mixture of organic compounds present in sedimentary rocks).
  • Catagenesis (transformation of kerogen into fossil fuels). Kerogen is an intermediate product between organic matter and fossil fuels . Kerogen can come from algae, plankton, and woody plants. Due to catagenesis, kerogen can be converted to anthracene and equivalent compounds, or to methane and similar compounds. Thus, at high temperatures it is transformed into liquid hydrocarbons and gas.
  • Metagenesis. It is the process in which gases are formed due to high temperatures.
  • Metamorphism. They degrade from the hydrocarbons generated in the previous phases.

Oil properties

Oil is a dense liquid, with colors that tend to black or yellow.

Oil is a liquid , viscous, dense color tending to black or yellow (according to its concentration of hydrocarbons), with an unpleasant odor (product of sulphates and nitrogen) and a huge calorific (11,000 kilocalories per kilogram ). These properties will vary according to the type of oil we are talking about: paraffin-based (fluids), asphalt-based (viscous) and mixed-based (both).

Oil uses

Natural gas is used to power stoves, lighters, among others.

Oil is a powerful source of industrial materials, from which solvents , fuels, fuels, alcohols and plastics are obtained . To do this, crude oil must be subjected to various refining and distillation processes (fractional distillation), in order to separate and extract its ingredients.

Progressively heated from 20ºC to 400ºC, the oil separates into the following phases:

  • Natural gas (20 ° C). Fuel hydrocarbon gases such as ethane, propane and butane (liquefied petroleum gases), which are used to power stoves, lighters, etc.
  • Naphtha or ligroin (150 ° C). A substance called benzine or petroleum ether, a mixture of highly flammable and volatile compounds that is used as a nonpolar solvent, or as a base for other organic compounds.
  • Gasoline (200 ° C). The quintessential fuel for internal combustion engines (such as those in motor vehicles or certain electricity generation plants ) varies in rank according to its octane (purity) and is one of the most coveted derivatives of petroleum.
  • Kerosene (300 ° C). Also called kerosene, it is a fuel of low purity and low performance, but much cheaper than gasoline, used as a solvent, as a base for pesticides and for lamps or rural kitchens.
  • Diesel (370 ° C). Known as diesel, it is a fuel composed of paraffins, ideal for heaters and outboard motors (diesel engines), which are cheaper but have much lower performance.
  • Fuel oil (400 ° C). It is the heaviest petroleum-derived fuel that can be derived at atmospheric pressure, used to power boilers, furnaces, and as a material to be distilled again to obtain asphalts, lubricating oils, and other substances.
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