Oil​—How It Affects You

HAVE you ever stopped to think what life for many would be like without petroleum and its products? * Oil made from petroleum is used to lubricate motor vehicles, bicycles, strollers, and other things with moving parts. Oil lessens friction, thus slowing the breakdown of machine components. But that is not all.

Oil is used to make fuel for planes, automobiles, and heating systems. A multitude of cosmetics, paints, inks, drugs, fertilizers, and plastics as well as a myriad of other items contain petroleum products. Daily life for many would be drastically different without oil. Little wonder that according to one source, petroleum and its derivatives have “a greater variety of uses than perhaps any other substance in the world.” How do we get oil? Where does it come from? How long has mankind used it?

The Bible tells us that more than two millenniums before Christ, Noah, following divine instructions, constructed a gigantic vessel and used tar​—possibly a petroleum substance—​to make it watertight. (Genesis 6:14) Petroleum substances were used by the Babylonians for their kiln-dried bricks, by the Egyptians in the mummification process, and by other ancient peoples for medicinal purposes.

Who would have imagined that this product would come to be of such importance in today’s world? No one can deny that modern industrial civilization depends on petroleum.

The use of oil from petroleum for artificial lighting was oil’s springboard to fame. As early as the 15th century, oil from surface wells was used in lamps in Baku, today’s capital of Azerbaijan. In 1650, shallow oil reservoirs were dug in Romania, where oil, in the form of kerosene, was used for lighting. By the mid-19th century, that country and others in Eastern Europe already had a prosperous oil industry.

In the United States, it was mainly the search for a high-quality illuminant in the 1800’s that made a group of men direct their efforts toward oil. These men rightly concluded that in order to produce enough kerosene to supply the market, they would have to drill for oil. So in 1859 an oil well was successfully drilled in Pennsylvania. The oil fever had begun. What happened next?


^ par. 2 The word “petroleum” comes from Latin and means “rock oil.” It is customarily used to identify two closely related compounds​—natural gas, also known as methane, and oil. Both substances sometimes seep to the surface through cracks in the earth. As for oil, it can be liquid or in the form of asphalt, pitch, bitumen, or tar.

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Although usually coming from what are called oil wells, oil is in fact petroleum, or crude oil, that issues from below the ground. Petroleum is defined as “a thick, flammable, yellow-to-black mixture of gaseous, liquid, and solid hydrocarbons that occurs naturally beneath the earth’s surface.” It “can be separated into fractions including natural gas, gasoline, naphtha, kerosene, fuel and lubricating oils, paraffin wax, and asphalt and is used as raw material for a wide variety of derivative products.”​—The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language.