Crude oil is refined into petroleum products, which are part of many common items that we use in our lives on a daily basis.
From things like toothbrushes and cosmetics to running shoes and sunglasses, crude oil makes its way into every part of our everyday routine. Consider the gasoline that fuels our cars on our daily commutes to school or work; or the diesel used in trucks and trains to transport goods from factories to stores; or the jet fuel that gets big jumbo jets full of travellers into the air and to their next destination...
From things like toothbrushes and cosmetics to running shoes and sunglasses, crude oil makes its way into every part of our everyday routine. Consider the gasoline that fuels our cars on our daily commutes to school or work; or the diesel used in trucks and trains to transport goods from factories to stores; or the jet fuel that gets big jumbo jets full of travellers into the air and to their next destination.
According to Natural Resources Canada, Canadians consumed 108 billion litres of refined petroleum products in 2017 (the majority of which were used for transportation). So what exactly are petroleum products?
When crude oil is extracted from the ground it is transported to upgraders and refineries via pipelines, tanker ships, or trains. Upgraders essentially create usable crude oil (called synthetic crude oil) from heavy unconventional crude oil that is excavated as bitumen (a mixture of sand, clay, heavy oil and water). Other crude oils, usually referred to as conventional crude oil, is processed at refineries into usable products for the petroleum industry.
Although Canada has a strong petroleum industry (Canadian refineries process more than a million barrels of petroleum per day), a significant percentage of Canadian crude oil also makes its way down to the United States because the refineries south of the border are especially equipped to handle the heavy crude oil that is produced in our oilsands.
Crude oil is processed in two different ways to create refined petroleum products. One is catalytic cracking, which is the process of breaking down larger and more complex hydrocarbons into simpler and lighter molecules using another molecule as a catalyst. The second is fractional distillation, which is done with high temperatures, separating out different crude oil components according to their boiling points.
Refineries produce transportation fuels, heating oil (used for electricity generation), liquid petroleum gases (like the propane you use to do BBQ), petrochemical feedstock (these are used to manufacture things like rubber and plastic) and a variety of other products (such as lubricating oils for your car or asphalt for paving roads).
Crude oil is more than just an energy source for power generation or fuel (although that alone is a huge part of modern civilization). Crude oil and its products are heavily intertwined with all aspects of our daily lives and reducing our dependence on it won’t be as easy as simply switching to a renewable source of energy.
However, crude oil is a fossil fuel that contributes GHGs to spur on climate change and it is also a non-renewable resource that will eventually run out (possibly within our lifetime). Scientists and various organizations around the world are researching ways to reduce our dependency on crude oil, but currently the best course of action is for us to change our habits and be more energy conscious and efficient.
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