Petroleum industry

Petroleum industry
The distribution of oil and gas reserves among the world's 50 largest oil companies. The reserves of the privately owned companies are grouped together. The oil produced by the "supermajor" companies accounts for less than 15% of the total world supply. Over 80% of the world's reserves of oil and natural gas are controlled by national oil companies. Of the world's 20 largest companies, 15 are state-owned companies.
World oil reserves, 2009.

The petroleum industry includes the global processes of exploration, extraction, refining, transporting (often by oil tankers and pipelines), and marketing petroleum products. The largest volume products of the industry are fuel oil and gasoline (petrol). Petroleum is also the raw material for many chemical products, including pharmaceuticals, solvents, fertilizers, pesticides, and plastics. The industry is usually divided into three major components: upstream, midstream and downstream. Midstream operations are usually included in the downstream category.

Petroleum is vital to many industries, and is of importance to the maintenance of industrial civilization itself, and thus is a critical concern for many nations. Oil accounts for a large percentage of the world’s energy consumption, ranging from a low of 32% for Europe and Asia, up to a high of 53% for the Middle East.

Other geographic regions’ consumption patterns are as follows: South and Central America (44%), Africa (41%), and North America (40%). The world consumes 30 billion barrels (4.8 km³) of oil per year, with developed nations being the largest consumers. The United States consumed 25% of the oil produced in 2007.[1] The production, distribution, refining, and retailing of petroleum taken as a whole represents the world's largest industry in terms of dollar value.

Governments such as the United States government provide a heavy public subsidy to petroleum companies, with major tax breaks at virtually every stage of oil exploration and extraction, including for the costs of oil field leases and drilling equipment.[2]



Natural history

Petroleum is a naturally occurring liquid found in rock formations. It consists of a complex mixture of hydrocarbons of various molecular weights, plus other organic compounds. It is generally accepted that oil is formed mostly from the carbon rich remains of ancient plankton after exposure to heat and pressure in the Earth's crust over hundreds of millions of years. Over time, the decayed residue was covered by layers of mud and silt, sinking further down into the Earth’s crust and preserved there between hot and pressured layers, gradually transforming into oil reservoirs.[citation needed]

Early history

Petroleum in an unrefined state has been utilized by humans for over 5000 years. Oil in general has been used since early human history to keep fires ablaze, and also for warfare.

Its importance in the world economy evolved slowly, with whale oil used for lighting into the 19th century, and wood and coal used for heating and cooking well into the 20th Century. A petroleum industry emerged in North America in Canada and the United States. The Industrial Revolution generated an increasing need for energy which was fueled mainly by coal, with other sources including whale oil. However, it was discovered that kerosene could be extracted from crude oil and used as a light and heating fuel. Petroleum was in great demand, and by the twentieth century had become the most valuable commodity traded on the world market.[3]

Modern history

Galician oil wells

Imperial Russia produced 3,500 tons of oil in 1825 and doubled its output by mid-century.[4] After oil drilling began in what is now Azerbaijan in 1848, two large pipelines were built in the Russian Empire: the 833 km long pipeline to transport oil from the Caspian to the Black Sea port of Batumi (Baku-Batumi pipeline), completed in 1906, and the 162 km long pipeline to carry oil from Chechnya to the Caspian.

At the turn of the 20th century, Imperial Russia's output of oil, almost entirely from the Apsheron Peninsula, accounted for half of the world's production and dominated international markets.[5] Nearly 200 small refineries operated in the suburbs of Baku by 1884.[6] As a side effect of these early developments, the Apsheron Peninsula emerged as the world's "oldest legacy of oil pollution and environmental negligence."[7] In 1878, Ludvig Nobel and his Branobel company "revolutionized oil transport" by commissioning the first oil tanker and launching it on the Caspian Sea.[5]

The first modern oil refineries were built by Ignacy Łukasiewicz near Jasło (then in the dependent Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria in Central European Galicia), Poland from 1854–56.[8] These were initially small as demand for refined fuel was limited. The refined products were used in artificial asphalt, machine oil and lubricants, in addition to Łukasiewicz's kerosene lamp. As kerosene lamps gained popularity, the refining industry grew in the area.

In Canada, oil extraction began in 1858 in Oil Springs, Ontario.[9]

The first oil drilling in the United States began in 1859, when oil was successfully drilled in Titusville, Pennsylvania.[10] In the first quarter of the 20th century, the United States overtook Russia as the world's largest oil producer.

By the 1920s, oil fields had been established in many countries including Canada, Poland, Sweden, the Ukraine, the United States, Peru and Venezuela.

In the early 1930s the Texas Company developed the first mobile steel barges for drilling in the brackish coastal areas of the Persian Gulf.

In 1937 Pure Oil Company (now part of Chevron Corporation) and its partner Superior Oil Company (now part of ExxonMobil Corporation) used a fixed platform to develop a field in 14 feet (4.3 m) of water, one mile (1.6 km) offshore of Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana.

In early 1947 Superior Oil erected a drilling/production oil platform in 20 ft (6.1 m) of water some 18 miles[vague] off Vermilion Parish, Louisiana. But it was Kerr-McGee Oil Industries (now Anadarko Petroleum Corporation), as operator for partners Phillips Petroleum (ConocoPhillips) and Stanolind Oil & Gas (BP), that completed its historic Ship Shoal Block 32 well in October 1947, months before Superior actually drilled a discovery from their Vermilion platform farther offshore. In any case, that made Kerr-McGee's well the first oil discovery drilled out of sight of land.[11][12]

After World War II ended, the countries of the Middle East took the lead in oil production from the United States.

Industry structure

The American Petroleum Institute divides the petroleum industry into five sectors:[13]

  • upstream (exploration, development and production of crude oil or natural gas)
  • downstream (oil tankers, refiners, retailers and consumers)
  • pipeline
  • marine
  • service and supply

Oil companies used to be classified by sales as "supermajors" (BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Shell, Eni and Total S.A.), "majors", and "independents" or "jobbers". In recent years however, National Oil Companies (NOC, as opposed to IOC, International Oil Companies) have come to control the rights over the largest oil reserves; by this measure the top ten companies all are NOC. The following table shows the ten largest oil companies ranked by reserves[14] and by production.[15]

Top 10 largest world oil companies by reserves and production
Rank Company Worldwide Liquids Reserves (109 bbl) Worldwide Natural Gas Reserves (1012 ft3) Total Reserves in Oil Equivalent Barrels (109 bbl) Company Production (106 bbl/d)
1 Saudi Aramco 260 254 303 Saudi Aramco 11.0
2 National Iranian Oil Company 138 948 300 National Iranian Oil Company 4.0
3 Qatar Petroleum 15 905 170 Kuwait Petroleum Corporation 3.7
4 Iraq National Oil Company 116 120 134 Iraq National Oil Company 2.7
5 Petróleos de Venezuela 99 171 129 Petróleos de Venezuela 2.6
6 Abu Dhabi National Oil Company 92 199 126 Abu Dhabi National Oil Company 2.6
7 Kuwait Petroleum Corporation 102 56 111 Petróleos Mexicanos 2.5
8 Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation 36 184 68 Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation 2.3
9 Libya NOC 41 50 50 Libya NOC 2.1
10 Sonatrach 12 159 39 Lukoil 1.9

Most upstream work in the oil field or on an oil well is contracted out to drilling contractors and oil field service companies.[citation needed]

Public subsidy

The United States government provides a large subsidy to oil companies, with major tax breaks at virtually every stage of oil exploration and extraction. Revenue attributable to capital investment, including the costs of oil field leases and drilling equipment, are taxed at an effective rate of nine percent, which is a much lower rate than the 25% rate for general business taxes and lower than the taxes of virtually any other industry, according to a 2005 study by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. For example, while the Deepwater Horizon oil rig was registered in the Marshall Islands, since registering off-shore lowered the U.S. tax liability, the U.S. government was giving the rig's owner, British Petroleum (BP), a major tax break when BP leased the rig: 70% of the rent was written off in the form of a tax break used only by the oil industry, for a tax deduction of more than $225,000 per day from the day the lease began.[2]

Environmental impact and future shortages

Some petroleum industry operations have been responsible for water pollution through by-products of refining and oil spills.

The combustion of fossil fuels produces greenhouse gases and other air pollutants as by-products. Pollutants include nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, volatile organic compounds and heavy metals.

As petroleum is a non-renewable natural resource the industry is faced with an inevitable eventual depletion of the world's oil supply. The BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2007 listed the reserve/production ratio for proven resources worldwide. The study placed the prospective life span of proven reserves in the Middle East at 79.5 years, Latin America at 41.2 years and North America at only 12 years.

The Hubbert peak theory, which introduced the concept of peak oil, questions the sustainability of oil production. It suggests that after a peak in oil production rates, a period of oil depletion will ensue. Since virtually all economic sectors rely heavily on petroleum, peak oil could lead to a partial or complete failure of markets.[16]

According to research by IBISWorld, biofuels (primarily ethanol, but also biodiesel) will continue to supplement petroleum. However output levels are low, and these fuels will not displace local oil production. More than 90% of the ethanol used in the US is blended with gasoline to produce a 10% ethanol mix, lifting the oxygen content of the fuel.[17]

Petroleum industry in popular culture

The petroleum industry's influence on modern society has made it a favorite subject in contemporary literature.

See also

Environmental issues
Financial and political
Oil geology
Oil-producing areas
Industry Research Projects
  • TaskForceMajella


  1. ^ "The World Factbook". Country Comparison - Oil Consumption. Found at
  2. ^ a b New York Times, 2010 July 3, "As Oil Industry Fights a Tax, It Reaps Subsidies,"
  3. ^ Halliday, Fred. The Middle East in International Relations: Power and Ideology. Cambridge University Pres: USA, 270
  4. ^ N.Y. Krylov, A.A. Bokserman, E.R.Stavrovsky. The Oil Industry of the Former Soviet Union. CRC Press, 1998. Page 187.
  5. ^ a b Shirin Akiner, Anne Aldis. The Caspian: Politics, Energy and Security. Routledge, 2004. Page 5.
  6. ^ United States Congress, Joint Economic Committee. The Former Soviet Union in Transition. M.E. Sharpe, 1993. Page 463.
  7. ^ Quoted from: Tatyana Saiko. Environmental Crises. Pearson Education, 2000. Page 223.
  8. ^ Frank, Alison Fleig (2005). Oil Empire: Visions of Prosperity in Austrian Galicia (Harvard Historical Studies). Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-01887-7. 
  9. ^
  10. ^ John Steele Gordon "10 Moments That Made American Business," American Heritage, February/March 2007.
  11. ^ Ref accessed 02-12-89 by technical aspects and coast mapping. Kerr-McGee
  12. ^ Project Redsand
  13. ^ American Petroleum Institute. "Industry Sectors." Retrieved 12 May 2008
  14. ^ Ranked in order of 2007 worldwide oil equivalent reserves as reported in "OGJ 200/100", Oil & Gas Journal, September 15, 2008.
  15. ^ "The Market Position of National Oil Companies" (PDF). The Role of National Oil Companies in the International Oil Market. Congressional Research Service. August 2007. Retrieved 2009-09-17.  Ranking by oil reserves and production, 2006 values
  16. ^ "German Military Braces for Scarcity After ‘Peak Oil’". The New York Times. September 9, 2010.
  17. ^ IBISWorld. "US Oil Drilling Industry Market Research Report." Retrieved 14 May 2008

Further reading

  • Ordons Oil & Gas Information & News
  • Robert Sobel The Money Manias: The Eras of Great Speculation in America, 1770-1970 (1973) reprinted (2000).
  • Daniel Yergin, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power, (Simon and Schuster 1991; paperback, 1993), ISBN 0-671-79932-0.
  • Matthew R. Simmons, Twilight in the Desert The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy, John Wiley & Sons, 2005, ISBN 0-471-73876-X.
  • Matthew Yeomans, Oil: Anatomy of an Industry (New Press, 2004), ISBN 1-56584-885-3.
  • Smith, GO (1920): Where the World Gets Its Oil: National Geographic, February 1920, pp 181–202

External links

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