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What Refineries Do With Oil and Gas

In 2011 the US consumed about 6.87 billion barrels (288.5 million gallons) of oil, which comes out to about 18.83 million barrels (790.83 million gallons) a day. For 2010 the US consumed about 7 billion barrels - or about 19.18 million barrels a day - of refined petroleum products. Roughly 22% of global oil consumption and the vast majority of it, at one point or another, cycled through one of the nation’s 148 refineries. With the sheer magnitude of those numbers in mind, it is natural to wonder why the refineries use so much oil and gas and what exactly they do with it. This article will help shed some light on that question.

Categories of Petroleum Distillates

The fundamental piece to understand about crude oil and natural gas is that they are raw and ready to use when drawn from the ground. Instead, they must undergo a thorough and intensive refining process, hence the reason that refineries exist in the first place. The US not only has one of the highest concentrations of refineries in the world, it also has some of the most advanced, state-of-the-art refineries, capable of transforming useful products out of what would otherwise be useless crude oil and natural gas. The types of products yielded by refineries will often vary depending on the type of oil and gas that is being refined as well as the capabilities and capacities of the particular refinery where it is being processed. However, for the most part the substances yielded, referred to as petroleum distillates, can be classified into four broad categories. Those categories are: Light Distillates
  • Gasoline
  • Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG)
  • Jet Fuel
  • Kerosene
Middle Distillates
  • Automotive Diesel
  • Railroad Diesel
  • Residential Heating Fuel
Heavy Distillates
  • Heavy Fuel Oils
  • Bunker Fuel Oil
  • Other Residual fuel Oils
Other Residuals
  • Petroleum Coke
  • Asphalt and Tar
  • Speciality Petroleum Naphthas
  • Speciality Solvents
  • Elemental Sulfur
  • Lubricating Oils
  • Petrochemical Feed-Stocks
  • Carbon Black
  • Transformer and Cable Oils
  • Waxes and Greases
What ultimately ends up happening to the various refined substances will depend upon the type of petroleum distillate they form, and what it can best be used for. Many of the light, medium, and heavy distillates are used for fuel or heating whereas many of the other residual distillates are used for purposes which require thicker oil such as lubrication, waxes, and grease. Additionally, many of these substances also form the basis for the very wide range of petroleum based products that are created, including plastics.

Fuel and Energy

One of the primary functions of oil and gas, is for fuel and energy. However, it is important to note that this fuel and energy is not only restricted to use in automobiles, railroads, and airplanes. Much of the fuel is used in the industrial and manufacturing industries, often in things like paper mills, petrochemical plants, and factories. It is common for a wide range of industrial, petrochemical, and manufacturing facilities to spring up near oil and gas refineries because the close proximately to these refineries translates into a reliable fuel source that will not need to be transported over long distances. For this reason, many of the states that function as oil and gas refining hubs, also boast a robust industrial sector.

Petroleum Based Products

It is difficult to underestimate the significance of petroleum based products both in terms of the economy as well as the daily way of life for people all over the country and the world. Petroleum based products come into play in one way or another in just about every other industry. For example they play a huge role in the agricultural industry as a component of fertilizers and pesticides. They impact the medical industry in the form of pharmaceuticals and medical devices. Solvents, makeup, lotions, cleaning products, and many more household items also feature petroleum as a component ingredient. Additionally, plastics are petroleum based and they are one of the most prolific and heavily relied upon materials in the world. Therefore if you are truly curious about what refineries are doing with all that oil and gas, you need look no farther than your own living room for the answer. It is also worth noting that while the oil and gas industry has played a crucial role in American life for well over a century, it is nevertheless an even more exciting time in this sector than ever before. New technologies in drilling and oil and gas recovery have made the process cheaper and more efficient. Advances in energy efficient appliances, as well as a greater focus on energy conservation, have helped relieve the strain on supply and demand for oil and gas in the US. Meanwhile an expanded network of pipelines and infrastructure, as well as advances in refining technology and capacity, particularly in the Gulf Coast region of the US, have allowed for much more efficient production. This confluence of events has resulted in the US becoming less reliant on foreign oil. In fact in 2011 the US became a net exporter of gasoline, diesel and other fuels for the first time since 1949. This gives us an exciting array of opportunities and resources and helps secure our future.