Crude Oil Products

Have a Crude (Oil Product) Day!


Can you imagine the reaction if this were your daily greeting?

But, in reality, most of us are already having crude oil products all the time in our day to day. Because, when refined, crude oil is the basis for many of our life’s conveniences…and necessities.

The refining process is important, of course, because crude oil is…well, you get the idea. (Gotta have a little fun!)

crude-oil-joke-imageAccording to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), crude oil and other liquids produced from fossil fuels are refined into petroleum products that people use for many different purposes. Biofuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel, are also used as petroleum products, mainly in mixtures with gasoline and diesel fuel. The United States consumes more energy from petroleum than from any other energy source. In 2015, total U.S. petroleum consumption was about 19 million barrels per day (b/d), the equivalent of about 36 percent of all the energy consumed in the United States. We use petroleum products to propel vehicles, heat buildings, and to produce electricity. The petrochemical industry uses petroleum as a raw material (a feedstock) to make products such as plastics, polyurethane, solvents, and hundreds of other intermediate and end-user goods.

When Anna Wegis was an engineering student at University of Southern California (USC) in 2001, she wrote an article entitled A World of Petroleum for Illumin, the school’s engineering journal. She described the morning routine of a typical student:


The student is awakened by a petroleum product (her alarm clock), is wearing petroleum (her pajamas), and uses petroleum to turn on the light (the light switch). She has a convenient shower thanks to petroleum (the water pipes and shower curtain), washes her hair with petroleum (shampoo), and then applies petroleum to make her skin soft (lotion). Next, the student inserts soft contact lenses and uses a contact lens case, hair curlers, lipstick, deodorant, perfume, a comb, and toothpaste, all of which are petrochemical products. During the hour, she also watched the television, which is made in part from petroleum. On the way to school, she drove in petroleum (the body of her sports-car) and used petroleum to get there (fuel).


 In the interests of honest reporting, there has been some pushback on the use of crude oil products since 2001, when this was published. But how different do you think this routine, and the use of crude oil products, is in 2017?

We all know about gasoline. We also all know that there are those who would prefer that their cars be powered by something other than gasoline. The technologies for vehicle propulsion are advancing, with improvements in electric vehicles and the development of a hydrogen-based system. But is gasoline the only crude oil product that is used in cars? Are the ones that claim to be hydrocarbon-free really that way if they can’t function without some form of crude oil product?

As Chris Woodyard wrote in an article for USA Today entitled Motor oil makers get ready for the electric-car age, “…any new-age energy saving device that rotates, turns or spins is going to need grease. Think windmills. For another, automakers are demanding new kinds of lubricants as their high-tech fuel-saving efforts evolve.”

So, that make sense, that crude oil products would still be used in vehicles and machinery (including alternative energy machinery). What else is there? The barrel graphic, based on US Department of Energy (DOE) data, shows how the rest is used. 18% goes to the 6,000 other products.

An article entitled The Truth About Petrolatum in the Canadian magazine Best Health reviews the benefits of crude oil products in the health and beauty industry and addresses the concerns. As the article states, chemist Robert Chesebrough started the process of distilling and cleaning the thick gel found on oil wells in the 1850s. By 1870, petroleum jelly (also called petrolatum) in the form of Vaseline was being sold in the United States. While some beauty companies are promoting petrolatum alternatives, other manufacturers swear by its ability to moisturize and heal. Petrolatum used in cosmetic and personal care products sold in Canada is also a highly refined grade and must meet all of the standards set by the United States Pharmacopeia (USP). Says Paul Hughes, technical manager for Unilever Canada, maker of Vaseline, ‘Some people are creating fear among consumers by telling only part of the story.’

Plastics are also a crude oil product and, according to the American Chemistry Council, a very beneficial one. In medicine, sterile plastic packaging and disposable medical items-have helped prevent countless infections, one of the world’s leading causes of death. And, being strong and lightweight, plastics enable us to do more with less. Plastic packaging helps to dramatically extend the shelf life of fresh foods and beverages while allowing us to ship more product with less packaging material-reducing both food and packaging waste. Plastic insulation, sealants, and other building products are making our homes significantly more energy efficient, while reducing costs for heating and cooling. And lightweight plastics in cars can dramatically increase miles per gallon, saving drivers money at the pump.

This being California, we can’t forget to mention surfboards. You know our USC student picked up one at the end of the day. According to the DOE, almost all surfboards are made from fossil fuel-derived polyurethane foam (though researchers are testing foam from algae).

But be sure to dispose of plastics correctly. Use that recycle bin: it’s shown in the graphic below…with other crude oil products.

Who knew?