Definition Definition

Crude Oil: Meaning & Understanding the Crude Oil Refinery Process with Example

What Is Crude Oil?

Crude Oil is a petroleum product made up of hydrocarbon deposits and other organic components that naturally accumulate beneath the earth’s surface. It is a type of fossil fuel that is refined into useful products such as gasoline, diesel, and numerous other petrochemical products.

It is basically a liquid hydrocarbon compound that also contains nitrogen, sulfur, and oxygen. These elements combine to produce a wide range of complicated molecular structures, some of which are difficult to identify. Despite differences, nearly all crude oil contains 82-87% Carbon and 12-15% Hydrogen by weight.

Types of Crude Oil

There are four labels used to classify these oils and they are -

  • Light (shorter hydrocarbon chain)
  • Heavy (longer hydrocarbon chain)
  • Sweet (lower ratio of sulfur)
  • Sour (higher ratio of sulfur)

The lighter and sweeter the crude, the more demandable and valuable it is. It is often collected by drilling where it is frequently discovered with other resources such as natural gas. After extraction, it is refined and turned into a range of consumer products such as gasoline, kerosene and asphalt.

Fractional distillation is the main method to separate the hydrocarbon components of this oil. This distillation process is done in the refinery.

Understanding the Crude Oil Refinery Process with Example

The process of refining these oils are showcased below -

Crude Oil  

                 ⇩     (heat) 

 Vaporized Gasses 

                                                      ⇩     (fractional distillasion) 

Different Petroleum Products

(based on the density) 


For instance, after the refining process is done, 45 gallons of this fossil fuel becomes:

  • 19 gallons of gasoline
  • 11 gallons of diesel fuel
  • 4 gallons of jet fuel

Another 11 gallons of petroleum, liquefied refinery gasses, asphalt, lubricants, feedstock (plastic, detergent, solvents).


Use of the term in a sentence:

  • Crude oil is a worldwide commodity that trades on global marketplaces.
  • Many economists consider crude oil as the single most important resource in the world since this is the main source of energy production.


Category: Economics
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