WHY DO WE NEED PETROLEUM?
David C. Kopaska-Merkel*, Brian J. O'Neill**, and Sheila Kopaska-Merkel***
*Geological Survey of Alabama, P.O. Box O, Tuscaloosa, AL 35486-9780
**Shell Offshore Inc., P.O. Box 61933, New Orleans, LA 70161
***1300 Kicker Rd., Tuscaloosa, AL 35404
Level: Grades 3 - 7
Estimated Time Required: 15-30 minutes
to discuss the uses of petroleum, up to one hour for the students to write
their essays or stories.
Anticipated Learning Outcomes
Petroleum literally means rock oil; oil that comes from rock. Petroleum is formed from organic matter (plants, animals and microbes) that is buried deep below the Earth's surface by layer upon layer of sediment (sand, mud, etc.). Over long periods of time the organic material is transformed by heat and pressure into crude oil. Petroleum is lighter than water and so it moves upward through the ground water, which fills the tiny holes and crevices in the rocks, until it reaches an impermeable layer where the holes are too small for the droplets to pass through. There the oil remains until it is discovered by drilling a well.
Oil wells are drilled as deep as six miles into the Earth to search for petroleum. These wells can cost millions of dollars to drill, yet drilling is done because petroleum is a valuable natural resource. Although the major use of petroleum is as a fuel, (gasoline, jet fuel, heating oil), and petroleum and natural gas are often used to generate electricity, there are many other uses. Here are some of the ways petroleum is used in our every day lives. All plastic is made from petroleum and plastic is used almost everywhere: in cars, houses, toys, computers and clothing. Asphalt used in road construction is a petroleum product as is the synthetic rubber in the tires. Paraffin wax comes from petroleum, as do fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, detergents, phonograph records, photographic film, furniture, packaging materials, surfboards, paints, and artificial fibers used in clothing, upholstery, and carpet backing (see the included list for more examples). Helium, sulfur, and other valuable materials are produced from oil wells along with petroleum itself. Millions of people around the world are employed to find or produce petroleum, ship and refine it, and manufacture and market the many products made from it.
There are problems with petroleum that result from its use. In transporting oil, accidents do happen. Oil spills can kill plants and animals and soil beaches. Spills may happen closer to home: people often dump used oil from vehicle engines onto the ground or into open drains instead of taking it to a recycling center. This causes pollution. Plastic objects and containers are thrown away, but the plastic does not decay quickly. It stays around and may sometimes injure or kill wildlife: plastic rings from "six packs" can choke birds and animals; an action as simple as cutting each of the rings with scissors before throwing it away can save animal lives! Plastic bottles thrown overboard from ships and boats wash up on beaches. Thoughtless disposal of plastic causes problems for us all. How can we use petroleum products more sensibly in our own lives?
The burning of fossil fuels (gasoline, heating oil, kerosene, natural gas and coal) produces the gas carbon dioxide (CO2) as a by-product. Some scientists theorize that adding excess CO2 levels to the atmosphere could cause global warming: light energy from the sun is converted into heat energy on the Earth. Some of this heat is radiated back out into space. CO2 in the atmosphere traps some of this heat energy on the Earth, thus contributing to global warming. This theory has not been proven, but if the burning of fossil fuels does contribute to global warming, the results could be catastrophic. If the temperature rose high enough, the glaciers and ice caps could melt raising the level of the oceans and flooding coastal cities like New York, Miami, New Orleans, and Venice.
Some people would like to prevent the pollution that the use of petroleum products can cause by doing without petroleum altogether. Is this possible? What would it be like to live in a world without petroleum?
Results and Discussion
The list of products made from petroleum is modified from the American Petroleum Institute's (API) "Petrochemical Products" list and from Laurie Sachtleben's article "Products from Petroleum" (Chevron World magazine, Winter, 1990).
References and Recommended Additional Material
GERDING, Mildred, (ed)., 1979, Fundamentals of Petroleum: Petroleum Extension
Service, University of Texas at Austin, 247 p.
LEWIS, Alfred, 1966, The New World of Petroleum: New York, Dodd, Mead & Co., 80 p.
PRESS, Frank, and SIEVER, Raymond, 1982, Earth, 3rd ed.: W.H. Freeman and Co., San
Francisco, 613 p. This book contains an excellent summary of petroleum geology
written for college freshmen.
VIDEO: "Bottom of the Barrel": 3-2-1- Contact, 1991, Children's Television
Workshop, New York, NY.
Products Made from Oil
|Ink||Dishwashing liquids||Paint brushes||Telephones|
|Dolls||Car sound insulation||Fishing lures||Deodorant|
|Tents||Refrigerator linings||Paint rollers||Floor wax|
|Shoes||Electrician's tape||Plastic wood||Model cars|
|Glue||Roller-skate wheels||Trash bags||Soap dishes|
|Skis||Permanent press clothes||Hand lotion||Clothesline|
|Dyes||Soft contact lenses||Shampoo||Panty hose|
|Cameras||Food preservatives||Fishing rods||Oil filters|
|Dice||Disposable diapers||TV cabinets||Cassettes|
|Mops||Sports car bodies||Salad bowls||House paint|
|Dresses||Car battery cases||Safety glass||Hair curlers|
|Pajamas||Synthetic rubber||VCR tapes||Eyeglasses|
|Pillows||Vitamin capsules||Movie film||Ice chests|
|Candles||Rubbing alcohol||Loudspeakers||Ice buckets|
|Boats||Ice cube trays||Credit cards||Fertilizers|
|Crayons||Insect repellent||Water pipes||Toilet seats|
|Caulking||Roofing shingles||Fishing boots||Life jackets|
|Balloons||Shower curtains||Garden hose||Golf balls|
|Milk jugs||Beach umbrellas||Rubber cement||Sun glasses|
|Putty||Faucet washers||Cold cream||Bandages|
|Tool racks||Antihistamines||Hair coloring||Nail polish|
|Slacks||Drinking cups||Guitar strings||False teeth|
|Yarn||Petroleum jelly||Toothpaste||Golf bags|
|Luggage||Wire insulation||Folding doors||Shoe polish|
|Fan belts||Ballpoint pens||Shower doors||Cortisone|
|Carpeting||Artificial turf||Heart valves||LP records|
|Lipstick||Artificial limbs||Hearing aids||Vaporizers|
|Aspirin||Shaving cream||Wading pools||Parachutes|
Why Do We Need Petroleum?
Your teacher will discuss some uses of petroleum, as well as some problems caused by the use of petroleum. Here are a few things you or your family come into contact with every day that are made from petroleum: gasoline, plastic (everything made from plastic comes from petroleum), artificial rubber, candle wax, fertilizer, detergents, photographic film, furniture, packaging materials, surfboards, paints, protective gloves, raincoats, and umbrellas. Petroleum is sometimes used to generate electricity. Helium, sulfur, and other valuable materials are produced from oil wells along with the petroleum itself. Millions of people around the world work to find and produce petroleum, ship and refine it, make things out of it, and sell these many products.
1. This worksheet includes pictures of two houses. The houses are identical except everything made with petroleum has been taken out of the second one. On this picture, draw replacements NOT made with petroleum products for the missing items.
2. Is it hard to find petroleum-free replacements for some of the missing items?
Do we need to have all these things?
3. Use your imagination to think of a world without ANY
petroleum in it. Would you like to live in such a world? What would you
have to give up? What would be better? Write an essay, story, or poem or
draw a picture illustrating a this petroleum-free world you have imagined,
and what it would be like.
When you are done, share your ideas. Did some of your friends think of things you hadn't thought about? Have you changed you mind about whether or not you would like to live in a world without petroleum? Can we use the petroleum we have more wisely?
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