Crude Oil

Written by Tara Peris
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Crude oil first emerged for commercial use in the United States during the 19th century. In the time since, our understanding of its chemical structure and multiple uses has broadened and it has become a mainstay of the U.S. economy. Although it has unarguably enhanced our lives in countless ways, its limited supply worldwide has made crude oil a subject of debate among politicians and environmentalists alike.

Crude oil is typically stored in barrels, with one barrel containing the equivalent of approximately 42 gallons. Worldwide, the reserve of crude oil is estimated at something close to a trillion barrels. However, to find oil one must head to the middle east, as the vast majority of the earth's supply resides in the 11 countries that comprise OPEC. Together, this constellation of countries produces nearly 30 million barrels of oil on any given day. As they hold the keys to one of the world's greatest resources, these countries and their policies engender a great deal of scrutiny and debate.

Uses and Prices of Crude Oil

To actually make crude oil of use, it typically needs to be refined. In fact, burning crude oil itself would do very little. Although the most common form of refined oil is gasoline, crude oil is also found in kerosene, various lubricants, and insecticides. Further, there are thousands upon thousands of uses for the chemicals that crude oil derivatives help to create. Products such as detergent and plastic rely in part on the use of this versatile compound.

Given its diverse uses, crude oil prices have been known to fluctuate wildly. As with any other sought after commodity, the principles of supply and demand govern its performance. Although the United States has employed price controls that have served to keep prices below the median price for oil worldwide, it too has been vulnerable to market shifts that emerge with war and changing OPEC regulations.

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