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Black Gold

Did you know that the petroleum that keeps your cars, buses, trucks, etc. running and the oil that keeps your bicycle from squeaking, both come from deep down in the earth’s crust?

What is Oil?

Oil is not a mineral, it’s a liquid substance found deep down in the earth’s surface. Oil is found in places where there were seas and oceans and marine life, millions of years ago. When plants and animals that lived along the shores of these oceans and seas died, their dead bodies drifted down to the bottom of the sea. Over many years, the remains of these plants and animals piled up and were covered by layers of sand and mud. These layers were squeezed together by their own weight as well as the weight of the water, which pressed them down. The heat and the weight of the rock pressing on the piles of dead plants and animals turned them into drops of oil which is called petroleum.

How did this Oil get the name Petroleum?

Since petroleum was first found seeping up between rocks, it was called petroleum as petroleum means Rock Oil in Latin. Petroleum is lighter than water, which is the reason why it moves up through the tiny crevices and holes in the rocks. When the holes become too small for it to pass through, it remains there till it is drilled out.

oil refinery plant
Oil Refinery Plants process crude oil into petroleum, kerosene, diesel fuel, LPG gas (which we use for cooking) etc.

Why is Petroleum called Black Gold?

You must have all seen the shiny gold that is often worn as jewellery and is also very expensive. Petroleum is not shiny and golden in colour but it too is known as Black Gold, since it is black in colour when it comes out of the earth’s crust, but like gold it is worth a lot of money. It is a valuable natural resource and also very important for our daily life. From this oil we make petrol to run our cars, buses, tractors, lorries etc. Many kinds of plastic are made from it and we also use it to heat our houses, schools etc. It’s used in the asphalt that is used in constructing roads. Other items that need petroleum are fertilizers, detergents, packaging material, pesticides, paints, paraffin wax, kerosene etc.

How is the Oil drilled out?

An Offshore Oil Rig

an offshore oil rig

People drill down through many layers of rock to find oil; they drill as deep as six to seven miles into the Earth! Geologists (scientists who study rocks) do this by exploding dynamite underwater. The shock waves caused by the explosion hitsthe sea bed and bounce back from the layers of hard and soft rock underneath. Seismographs (recording machines) record these different waves that bounce back. Then, the geologists identify the different rock layers lying beneath the sea bed, and determine whether there is any oil there by looking at the wavy line patterns made by the seismograph. The oil company then drills a small well on that spot and once oil is found present there, they build a huge oil rig, to support the drilling machines that will drill deep down into the layers of rock and pump out the oil.


Before petroleum was discovered in 1859 by Edwin L Drake, from a well near Titusville, Pennsylvania, oil from the whale blubber and animal fat were used as fuels and lubricants.


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