7 Amazing Facts About the Oil Industry

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(Note: We believe that it’s important that the general public understand how the industry works, and how important it is. Regular educational articles like this might help balance some of the negative reports that sometimes come up in the media. If you are an experienced oil worker then you might not find all of these facts amazing, but perhaps you could share this article with someone who might!)

 

You depend on it every single day but how much do you really know about the oil industry? Perhaps after reading the following facts, you’ll start to think you did not know as much as you thought you did.

Did you know…?

… An Oil Reservoir is Not a Giant Underground Pool

Contrary to widespread belief, an oil reservoir is not a giant pool of liquid beneath the ground that can easily be sucked onto the surface. Rather, the oil is trapped in the pore spaces between rock crystals and soil grains.

Think of an oil reservoir as a giant sponge soaked in oil. It all comes down to how oil is formed i.e. the burial, compression and heating of dead organisms  underneath sedimentary rocks over millions of years.

… Mud is a Cleaner

Mud is usually viewed as undesirable and is associated with filth. Not so in the oil industry. Think of how the sawing of wood produces sawdust. Something similar happens when you are drilling a hole in the ground. Countless rock chippings are produced.

You can easily blow away sawdust but how do you deal with loose material far below the ground? By mixing clay and water in predefined proportions, a drilling mud is created that is pumped down the hole. It carries the loose chippings with it.

… 40 Percent of the World’s Ocean Cargo is Oil

That’s massive. It’s hard to appreciate the sheer scale of the oil industry but this one statistic goes a long way in painting a picture. It is this gargantuan size and the massive infrastructure built around it that has made it extremely difficult to find a worthy replacement to power the world.

We are still many years away from solar power for instance taking the place of oil. That’s even before factoring the numerous non-energy uses of petroleum products.

… Oil Rig Workers are Highly Skilled and Paid

It’s a dirty and physically exerting job. No college education is required. Yet oil rig workers are better paid than the vast majority of professions. In 2011, the average oil rig worker’s annual pay was nearly US$100,000.

The junior-most role on a rig (a roustabout) averaged US$34,680, roughly the median pay of all workers in the US. Oil rig workers are highly paid by any measure. However, the pay must be placed in context. Rigs are a dangerous work environment. Workers also spend extended periods away from family and friends.

… Most of the World’s Oil is Unlikely to be Recovered

Much of the world’s oil will probably never be recovered. The term ‘oil reserves’ refers to the amount of oil in a reservoir that can be technically and economically extracted. The recoverable oil usually ranges anywhere between 10% and 60% of the reservoir (see page 34 here).

So why is such a large proportion of the oil virtually impossible to extract? It comes down to rock permeability, natural pressure and the oil’s viscosity. While there have been major technological advances (fracking is one), it’s hard to see a mechanism for extracting all or most oil from the ground in the foreseeable future.

… Oil Has Much Broader Use Than Motor Vehicles, Aircraft, Power Plants and Domestic Heating

Oil has extensive application in the pharmaceutical and medical industry. Oil products are also used in the textile industry particularly in the making of synthetic fabrics such as acrylic, vinyl, nylon and polyester.

It is used in the manufacture of plastics that form camping gear, sports gear, toys and electronics such as computers, tablets, smartphones and televisions. It is a key component in the building of ships, trains and plane parts. Petroleum products are a component in the synthesis of fertilizers, bubble gum and perfumes.

… Fire isn’t the Primary Cause of Workplace Deaths in Oil and Gas Extraction

Surprising isn’t it? Considering an oil rig is built around gigantic quantities of combustible material, you would think fires would be the biggest killer. Yes, as several tragic incidents over the years have shown, an uncontrollable fire is the last thing you need on a rig.

Fortunately, decades of perfecting safety procedures has seen a significant reduction in deaths or injuries from ‘big’ risks. In 2015, the number one cause of death on an oil rig was being struck by a falling object. In 2015, deaths from fires and explosions accounted for less than 20% of workplace fatalities in the oil and gas extraction industry.

These 7 facts barely scratch the surface on the surprising information around the oil and gas industry. It does however provide a peek into just how much stuff outsiders might not know.

(Note: We believe that it’s important that the general public understand how the industry works, and how important it is. Regular educational articles like this might help balance some of the negative reports that sometimes come up in the media. If you are an experienced oil worker then you might not find all of these facts amazing, but perhaps you could share this article with someone who might!)

 

You depend on it every single day but how much do you really know about the oil industry? Perhaps after reading the following facts, you’ll start to think you did not know as much as you thought you did.

Did you know…?

… An Oil Reservoir is Not a Giant Underground Pool

Contrary to widespread belief, an oil reservoir is not a giant pool of liquid beneath the ground that can easily be sucked onto the surface. Rather, the oil is trapped in the pore spaces between rock crystals and soil grains.

Think of an oil reservoir as a giant sponge soaked in oil. It all comes down to how oil is formed i.e. the burial, compression and heating of dead organisms  underneath sedimentary rocks over millions of years.

… Mud is a Cleaner

Mud is usually viewed as undesirable and is associated with filth. Not so in the oil industry. Think of how the sawing of wood produces sawdust. Something similar happens when you are drilling a hole in the ground. Countless rock chippings are produced.

You can easily blow away sawdust but how do you deal with loose material far below the ground? By mixing clay and water in predefined proportions, a drilling mud is created that is pumped down the hole. It carries the loose chippings with it.

… 40 Percent of the World’s Ocean Cargo is Oil

That’s massive. It’s hard to appreciate the sheer scale of the oil industry but this one statistic goes a long way in painting a picture. It is this gargantuan size and the massive infrastructure built around it that has made it extremely difficult to find a worthy replacement to power the world.

We are still many years away from solar power for instance taking the place of oil. That’s even before factoring the numerous non-energy uses of petroleum products.

… Oil Rig Workers are Highly Skilled and Paid

It’s a dirty and physically exerting job. No college education is required. Yet oil rig workers are better paid than the vast majority of professions. In 2011, the average oil rig worker’s annual pay was nearly US$100,000.

The junior-most role on a rig (a roustabout) averaged US$34,680, roughly the median pay of all workers in the US. Oil rig workers are highly paid by any measure. However, the pay must be placed in context. Rigs are a dangerous work environment. Workers also spend extended periods away from family and friends.

… Most of the World’s Oil is Unlikely to be Recovered

Much of the world’s oil will probably never be recovered. The term ‘oil reserves’ refers to the amount of oil in a reservoir that can be technically and economically extracted. The recoverable oil usually ranges anywhere between 10% and 60% of the reservoir (see page 34 here).

So why is such a large proportion of the oil virtually impossible to extract? It comes down to rock permeability, natural pressure and the oil’s viscosity. While there have been major technological advances (fracking is one), it’s hard to see a mechanism for extracting all or most oil from the ground in the foreseeable future.

… Oil Has Much Broader Use Than Motor Vehicles, Aircraft, Power Plants and Domestic Heating

Oil has extensive application in the pharmaceutical and medical industry. Oil products are also used in the textile industry particularly in the making of synthetic fabrics such as acrylic, vinyl, nylon and polyester.

It is used in the manufacture of plastics that form camping gear, sports gear, toys and electronics such as computers, tablets, smartphones and televisions. It is a key component in the building of ships, trains and plane parts. Petroleum products are a component in the synthesis of fertilizers, bubble gum and perfumes.

… Fire isn’t the Primary Cause of Workplace Deaths in Oil and Gas Extraction

Surprising isn’t it? Considering an oil rig is built around gigantic quantities of combustible material, you would think fires would be the biggest killer. Yes, as several tragic incidents over the years have shown, an uncontrollable fire is the last thing you need on a rig.

Fortunately, decades of perfecting safety procedures has seen a significant reduction in deaths or injuries from ‘big’ risks. In 2015, the number one cause of death on an oil rig was being struck by a falling object. In 2015, deaths from fires and explosions accounted for less than 20% of workplace fatalities in the oil and gas extraction industry.

These 7 facts barely scratch the surface on the surprising information around the oil and gas industry. It does however provide a peek into just how much stuff outsiders might not know.

7 COMMENTS

  1. That’s interesting that mud is used as a cleaner. I’ve heard that it’s a lot of hard work to work in this industry. I lived in Montana for awhile and lots of people would move over to North Dakota to work in the oil industry.

  2. A little while ago, I was getting an oil change on my car, and my little son asked me where it comes from. I didn’t know, so here I am. But really I had no idea that you could only recover between 10% and 60% of the oil in oil fields. It sounds like an oil production company would need some good equipment to get closer to 60% than 10. Thanks for the article my son will be happy to hear a little about how it all works.

  3. The city we live in might be getting an oil field soon, but we are curious to know if this is a good idea for us to have one near us. I like that you mentioned that when it comes to the workers for this kind of industry that they are highly skilled, which makes me feel better. It is good to know that those working there will know what to do in any situation that may arise.

    • Hi Harper,

      Any kind of industrial development will have knock on effects. Some will be good (eg jobs, extra spending in the local economy) and some bad (more noise, heavy vehicle traffic etc).

      I guess that the local government will weigh up all the pros and cons before authorizing the go ahead. The decision will create community members that are happy, and ones that are not. That’s democracy…

  4. It is so interesting to learn about the oil industry. My brother is always talking about rigs and oilfield pipe thread protectors. I think it is so interesting that most of the oil in the world won’t be recovered.

  5. Honestly speaking, I have found this article fascinating & my tiredness got over by reading that the average oil rig worker’s annual pay was nearly US$100,000. Being in oil industry, even, We have never much talked over the salary structure but this info blows my mind.

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