50 Surprising Facts You Never Knew About Oil

Updated January 11, 2021
posted on 06-07-2019

Think you know everything about oil? We’ve compiled facts and startling statistics about this versatile commodity. We’re sure that these oil facts will surprise you! 

Basic Oil Trivia

1. Traditionally, crude oil is measured in barrels. These are each equivalent to 42 US gallons (or a little fewer than 159 liters). 
2. In Titusville, Pennsylvania, the 42-gallon barrel was officially adopted in 1866. 
3. In 1866, a “tierce” (oil barrel) weighed approximately 300 pounds. 
4. The consistency of crude oil can be completely liquid or nearly solid. 
5. Formed over millions of years, petroleum comes from dead organisms (like plants, plankton, and algae) being exposed to intense pressure and heat under the earth’s mantle. 
6. Most of the oil found in the ocean has oozed naturally from the ocean floor.

Fun Facts About Oil History 

7. The etymology of “petroleum” is derived from Ancient Greek “petra” (rock) and “élaion” (oil). 
8. Oil has been used for over 5,000 years, especially for medicine (like gout and frostbite). 
9. The first known oil wells were drilled nearly 2,500 years ago in today’s China. Early engineers used bamboo to dig and extract crude oil. 
10. Oil was first distilled into kerosene in Persia during the 9th century. 
11. The first modern oil well was drilled in 1853 in today’s Poland, and immediately took off around the world. 
12. Thanks to kerosene production, by the late 1800s, there was a rapid decline in whale hunting (whale blubber was used for lamp fuel). 
13. John D. Rockefeller (a 19th-century oil tycoon) was the world’s wealthiest man. In today’s dollars, his net worth would be $1.4 trillion. 

Interesting Facts About Oil Use 

14. Considered the "mother of all commodities", crude oil is used in the manufacturing of numerous products like gasoline, synthetic fabrics (e.g. vinyl, nylon, polyester), plastics, and even pharmaceuticals.
15. Many plastics, ammonia, perfumes, and even bubble gums are synthesized using petroleum products obtained during the crude oil refining process.
16. Most varieties of glycerin (also known as glycerine and glycerol) are derived from petrochemicals. This sweet-tasting synthetic ingredient is used in a wide variety of food products. 

Facts About Oil Production 

17. The total amount of crude oil in a reservoir is referred to as “oil-in-place.” 
If you divided the 42 gallons in one barrel: 
18. Texas, Louisiana, and California are responsible for more than 50% of the United States’ oil refining. 
19. The U.S. has 190,000 miles of oil pipelines
20. Though the first successful oil drilling was in Titusville, Pennsylvania in 1859, the American oil boom began with a major gusher at Spindletop in 1901 near Beaumont, Texas.

21. The largest “conventional” oil field is Saudi Arabia’s Ghawar oil field. Containing nearly 50 billion barrels of oil, the field is able to produce 3.8 million barrels per day. 
22. Saudi Arabia produces 8.1 million barrels of oil per day.
23. Venezuela has the largest amount of oil reserves in the world, followed by Saudi Arabia, Canada, Iran, and Iraq. 
24. On land, oil/drilling rigs are used. When in water, oil platforms are used. 
25. Oil platforms have been known to attract fish and other wildlife and provide a surface for coral, barnacles, and algae to populate. In other words, these structures create ecosystems. 
26. Starting in 1986, the Rigs-to-Reefs Program was founded to maintain the development of marine life along these oil platforms –  long after they’re no longer in service. 

Oil Spill Trivia

27. In 2010, the largest oil spill took place in the Gulf of Mexico. A surge of natural gas burst through the core of the Deepwater Horizon rig, spilling 4.2 million barrels of oil and killing 11 workers. 
28. Though BP (the responsible oil company or the Deepwater Horizon explosion) claimed to have lost 1,000 barrels per day, US officials calculated that it may have been more than 60,000 barrels per day. 
29. According to a major study, approximately 80% of all oil spills are caused by human error.
30. Approximately 12% of oil in oceans comes from spills – the rest comes from shipping, leakage, and dumping.
31. Oil spills devastate ecosystems. Oil destroys feathers’ waterproofing causing birds to die of hypothermia. Dark shadows of oil appear like food, causing internal organ damage to smaller animals and affecting larger animals through bioaccumulation

Oil & Trade Facts 

32. Founded in 1960, the first members of OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) were Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Venezuela. Today, the other members include Algeria, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Libya, Nigeria, and the United Arab Emirates. 
33. OPEC members determine whether to raise or lower oil production to maintain prices and supplies. The average price of petroleum is referred to as the “OPEC Reference Basket.” 
34. OPEC countries control just under 80% of the world’s total (proven) crude oil reserves
35. Cushing, Oklahoma (known as “the pipeline crossroads of the world”) is the most important crude oil storage location in the US. It can process upwards of 6.5 million barrels per day.
36. Crude oil prices are almost always quoted in US dollars. As a result, the US dollar is inversely related to the price of oil. 

Facts About Oil Consumption 

37. As a non-renewable resource, “peak oil” refers to the point in time when the oil industry is extracting the greatest amount of petroleum possible. After “peak oil”, production will decline and costs are predicted to rise dramatically for the remaining amount. 
38. Most oil experts state that “peak oil” will occur by 2050, though some believe that we’ve already reached this point. 
39. In 2019, international daily oil production was approximately 95.2 million barrels. 
40. In 2019, international oil consumption was 98.2 million barrels each day. 
41. Gibraltar, the Virgin Islands, and Singapore consume the most oil per day (per capita).

Facts About the United States & Oil Consumption 

41. The United States is the biggest consumer of oil, accounting for 20% of the world’s supply (20.5 million barrels per day) in 2018. 
42. Approximately 50% of all the oil consumed in the U.S. is for the transportation industry.
43. In 2018, the US had 43.8 billion barrels in proven oil reserves.
44. In 2019, the US consumed approximately 391 million gallons (about 9.3 million barrels) of gasoline. 
45. Though the US has just over 4% of the world’s population, it consumes 20% of the total oil. 
46. In 2015, Texas consumed 13% of the United States’ total energy supply, followed by Louisiana, Florida, and Illinois. 
47. In 2015, the states with the lowest energy consumption were Vermont, Rhode Island, Delaware, Hawaii, and New Hampshire. 
48. US drivers consume more oil than those in China and India combined. 

Learn More About Commodities 

Investing in commodities is potentially lucrative, but just like any investment, it doesn’t come without risk. You need to know what you’re buying!

For more information on investing in oil and other commodities, see our InvestingAnswers feature: The Absolute Worst Way to Invest in Commodities.