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History tells us that it was just the mid-1800s when the man first struck oil in Pennsylvania and started using it commercially. However, long before that technology arrived, ancient cultures were using it for adhesives, caulks and fuels, capturing it from natural seeps in the ground.

The San Francisco Chronicle shared some oil history in a recent article and you might be surprised to find out how widespread its use is. The auto era of the 1950s and post-war industrialization – when chemists created new ways to use oil as a basic ingredient in a variety of products – drove up demand for crude.

Most petroleum products are used to generate energy, as you might expect. A 42-gallon barrel of refined crude yields about 19 gallons of gasoline and 9 gallons of diesel. The rest is used to make other petroleum-based products.

So what are they? Many are used in the industrial world. Lubricants, motor oil, and things like WD-40 for squeaky hinges. Heating oil is also used both residentially and commercially in the winter to stay warm.

One place you might not expect oil products to appear is in the health industry. However, the ancient Egyptians were using it long before we were drilling for it. The Egyptians used oil from ground seeps and applied it to wounds, as did the Native Americans. This knowledge was passed on to George Washington’s army who used that same oil to treat frostbite during wartime.

In OERB school curricula, lessons teach kids about the many household items made from plastics. These plastics are made from oil. The list is long, but just to name a few: polyester, nylon, paint, bubble gum, candles, glue, carpet, shingles, dish soap, toothpaste and toys.

When people talk of lessening our dependence on fossil fuels, they often make a hasty generalization that speaks of less fuel and less electricity. They rarely take into account the thousands of products created from petroleum that would also be affected.


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The Egyptians used oil from ground seeps and applied it to wounds, as did the Native Americans.