How do we get oil?

Oil is an incredibly valuable resource. We use it to make plastic, power vehicles and produce the chemicals we need, like lubricants and pesticides.

Several Sub-Saharan countries are heavily involved in oil production, such as Nigeria and Angola.

WHAT IS OIL?

Oil is formed from tiny animals and plankton which lived in the sea millions of years ago. When they died, their remains fell to the sea floor, where they began to rot and decompose.

As they decomposed, layers of rock formed on top of them, trapping them underneath. Here, they were heated and put under great pressure, forming fossil fuels, like oil and gas.

HOW DO WE FIND IT?

Since oil is trapped deep underground under especially hard rock, potentially even under the sea, it can be hard to find.

Flowing oil can cause slight changes in the Earth’s gravity and magnetic field. This can be measured and used to find the flowing oil.

A more destructive method is to use explosives or large plates which are slammed into the ground. Their shock waves travel through the rock and bounce off different rock layers. When the shock waves return, they can reveal the presence of oil.

HOW DO WE GET OIL TO THE SURFACE?

Once oil is found, an oil rig is built. This involves using a special drill to dig a narrow shaft down to the oil.

Once the drill reaches the oil, channels in the rock at the bottom of the shaft are made. This is so the oil can flow to the shaft.

Once the shaft is complete, the rig is removed and a pump is put in place to suck the oil up the shaft.

A lot of work goes into building a rig. A constant source of water is needed. Roads need to be built to transport workers and equipment. The land around the rig is cleared of vegetation and levelled to make room for building.

WHAT DO WE DO WITH IT?

The oil we get directly out of the Earth is called crude oil. It is a mixture of lots of different chemicals and frequently contains impurities like sulfur.

The oil is sent to a refinery, where impurities are removed and the oil is separated. Most parts are used as fuel. Lighter fuels include petrol and butane, while heavier ones include kerosene and diesel.

If the oil is separated further, it can be used by chemists to create various products.

WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES OF OIL PRODUCTION?

Producing oil can be a major source of income to a country.

However, it can have a number of consequences, such as harming ecosystems, causing oil spills and triggering conflict.

Awareness of the risks involved and their careful consideration can allow countries to make proper use of this resource in a way that benefits everyone.

JOSEPH ELLIOTT

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