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Samples of various crude oils from the Caucasus, the Middle East, the Arabian Peninsula and France
Oil production off the Vietnamese coast
The only German Mittelplate drilling platform in the Wadden Sea of ​​the North Sea
Sealing of an oil-spouting production head damaged by a ship collision

Oil is a naturally in the upper crust occurring, yellow to black, mainly hydrocarbons consisting mixture obtained by transformation processes of organic matter is obtained. The as raw material in the promotion of a deposit recovered and not further treated oil is also known as crude oil designated (Engl. Crude Oil ).

Already used as fuel in the ancient Orient , crude oil has been one of the most important raw materials in industrial society since the first half of the 20th century at the latest . It is not only the most important fossil fuel , but the most important energy resource of all. By separation and conversion process oil is transferred to a plurality of intermediate products, the base for the production of fuels and as raw materials for the industry are used. The latter mainly include raw materials for numerous products in the chemical industry , such as plastics , lacquers and paints, or medicines. The name "black gold" is due to its enormous economic importance. Mostly political oil crises have a direct impact on the development of the world economy.

In the years from 2000 to 2009 alone, around 242 billion barrels  - one barrel corresponds to around 159 liters  - were produced worldwide . BP indicates a daily consumption of 96.6 million barrels for 2016, 1.6 percent more than in 2015. For 2016, the value corresponds to a daily consumption of over 15.4 billion liters. A slight increase is expected for the following years, but the demand for natural gas in particular will increase. Nevertheless, there is a large surplus of crude oil on the world market, which was mainly caused by new production techniques.

Oil companies like BP are among the largest commercial companies in the world. Accidents during production, for example the fire on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in 2010, or during transport, for example the wreck of the tanker Exxon Valdez in 1989, led to environmental disasters . The extraction and especially the burning of oil releases greenhouse gases , which are considered to be the main cause of global warming . Oil transport routes such as the Friendship Oil Pipeline and their management can be the subject of interstate energy disputes , but also the basis of far-reaching economic developments. The oil prices are important indicators of economic development. An exhaustion of the world's economically exploitable reserves is discussed under the heading global oil production maximum . In the 1950s, Marion King Hubbert correctly predicted the peak of American oil production in 1970. In 1974, however, he wrongly estimated that the world maximum would be reached in 1995 if the conditions remained the same.


Word origin

The Babylonians referred to petroleum with the word naptu (from nabatu ' to shine'). This expression suggests that oil was used for lighting from an early age. In ancient Greece , petroleum was known under the names naphtha ( νάφθα ) and naphthas ( νάφθας ) - presumably derived from the Babylonian naptu via the Persian word - which are currently still used as naphtha for petroleum . But the designation as "Oil Medeas" ( Μηδείας ἔλαιον Medeias elaion ) was also common. The latter name probably goes back to the assumption that it was used by Medea for her magic, especially in her revenge on Jason .

As shale oil , mountain oil , Berg fat or Peter oils "and petrae in the pharmacy petroleum and oleum" or "St. Catherine oil" Oil was already known in the late Middle Ages in Europe. The word petroleum or petrolium , proven in early New High German from the 15th century at the latest , is a Latin combination of ancient Greek πέτρα petra "rock, rock" or πέτρος petros "stone" and oleum for "oil", which means "rock" in German or "rock oil". This stems from the fact that the Ancient Romans in Egypt in a mountain range on the Gulf of Suez watched as oil from there upcoming Nubian Sandstone resigned. The names Bergöl and Peteröl , which were once used in German, also came from petroleum . From the 18th century, the current term crude oil became increasingly popular , and from the 19th century the word petroleum was increasingly used in German for one of its distillation products (see below).

Historical use and promotion

Illustration from the chapter Petroleum in the Hortus sanitatis (one of the “Mainz herb books”) from 1491

Petroleum has been known for several thousand years. Since it has a relatively low density (0.8–0.9 kg / l or tons / m³), ​​which is still below that of water, in the absence of an upwardly sealing rock layer, it can come from greater depths in the pores and crevices of Sedimentary rocks rise to the surface of the earth (in Germany for example near Hänigsen between Hanover and Braunschweig ). There, the normally relatively thin oil is converted into a tar-like substance, so-called bitumen or asphalt , through reaction with oxygen and the loss of volatile components .

This substance was already known in the Middle East 12,000 years ago . Among other things, people used them in shipbuilding for caulking : by mixing the bitumen with sand, reeds and other materials, a compound was created with which the cracks between the wooden ship planks could be sealed. This has also found its way into the biblical legends . The Babylonians used bitumen (“earth pitch”), among other things, as a binding agent in house and road construction. Bitumen was so ubiquitous in the Babylonian Empire that Hammurapi gave him several chapters in his law from the 18th century BC. Dedicated to. This is the first demonstrable government regulation of petroleum.

Crude oil that naturally emerges from the surface of the earth is also mentioned by the historians of classical antiquity , Herodotus and Pliny the Elder . The Roman army may have used petroleum as a lubricant for axles and wheels. In the early medieval Byzantine Empire , the fuel for a preform of the flamethrower known as “ Greek fire ” was probably made from petroleum .

In the pre-industrial modern age of Europe, crude oil was used in “the preparation of medicines, ointments, etc.”, in horticulture to control pests and also “to make fireworks” and as lamp oil. To increase the “bullet effect”, rifle bullets were wrapped in a cloth soaked with low-viscosity petroleum together with camphor before being introduced into the barrel . Special therapeutic use found among other things oils from Lombard crude oil sources such. B. from the "Pechbrunnen" on Monte Zibio near Modena , from Pechelbronn in Alsace (see Pechelbronn layers ) as well as Upper Bavarian "Petroleum", which was sold by Tegernsee Benedictines as "Holy Quirin Oil" (named after Quirinus von Tegernsee ).

Johann Jakob Lerche, a German-Russian natural scientist, observed a flourishing oil industry with systematic oil production in Baku, then Persian, in the mid-1730s .

Celebration on the occasion of the 1000th tank wagon filled with crude oil in Wietze in 1906
Replica of Drake's drilling site in the Drake Well Museum in Titusville

In the course of the industrial revolution , the demand for fluorescent, fuel and lubricants grew in Europe, and the importance of crude oil as an inexpensive alternative to vegetable oils and animal fats grew. In Galicia, the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains , at the time the Empire of Austria proper, won in Truskavets Josef Hecker from Prague and Johann Mitis in the 1810s "Bergöhl" from shafts. They also succeeded in distilling an easily flammable lamp oil ("naphtha") from it, and the Prague magistrate even decided in 1816 to illuminate the entire city with it, but this failed because the Galician production capacities were too low. Abraham Schreiner made experiments with ozokerite , a strongly aliphatic , low asphaltene depleted petroleum, in a boiler in Borysław around 1853 and obtained a clear distillate, whereupon he contacted the pharmacist Ignacy Łukasiewicz in Lemberg and the pharmacist Jan Zeh . Their cooperation simultaneously marked the beginning of the continuously operated oil production in what is now the Polish-Ukrainian foreland of the Eastern Carpathians . An early center of the later industrial oil production in underground mining developed further west near Bóbrka south of Krosno .

A milestone for the modern petrochemical industry is the patent that was granted to the Canadian doctor and geologist Abraham P. Gesner in the USA in 1855 for his manufacturing process for kerosene from oil shale or petroleum. The manufacture of kerosene as a light source remained the main purpose of oil production until the emergence of the automotive industry in the first decades of the 20th century.

As a result of Gesner's discovery, the systematic large-scale exploitation of oil deposits began in the second half of the 19th century. It was already known that crude oil had seeped into the boreholes in some deep boreholes for brine for salt production , but no one had specifically drilled for crude oil until then. The first oil wells in Germany were carried out in March 1856 in Dithmarschen by Ludwig Meyn and from 1858 near Wietze in Lower Saxony (north of Hanover ). The Hunäus well near Wietze, named after the head of the drilling work, struck gold on July 1, 1859 at a depth of 35 m, making it the first oil well to be successfully sunk in the world. Around 1910, around 80% of Germany's oil requirements were extracted from a depth of around 50 m with 2000 drilling rigs . The German Petroleum Museum is located in Wietze today .

The oil well that Edwin L. Drake sank in Oil Creek in Titusville , Pennsylvania in 1859 became world famous . Drake was drilling on behalf of the American industrialist George H. Bissell and, after several months of unsuccessful drilling, came across an abundant oil deposit on August 27 at a depth of just 21 meters. "This Sunday afternoon on the banks of Oil Creek near Titusville provided the spark that catapulted the oil industry into the future." While the Oil Creek area quickly developed into a prosperous oil production region with many more wells as a result of this discovery, the oil discovery remained Wietze initially had no economic consequences. Therefore, August 27, 1859 and Titusville are considered to be the most historically significant dates and locations.

In Saudi Arabia , the "black gold" was first discovered near the city of Dammam on March 4, 1938 after a series of unsuccessful explorations by the US company Standard Oil of California .



Most of the crude oil extracted today came from dead marine microorganisms , with algae accounting for by far the largest share of biomass . The production of oil begins mainly in the nutrient-rich, relatively deep sea areas of the shelf seas . There the algae, which regularly multiply in the light-flooded water near the sea surface, sink to the sea floor together with clay particles after their death . It is important here that the water near the sea floor is calm and only very rarely mixes with water from shallower sea depths. As a result, oxygen-poor or oxygen-free conditions can easily arise in the relevant seabed region. These prevent the algae biomass from completely decomposing - digested sludge is created. Over the course of several millions of years, massive sediment sequences with a high proportion of organic material are formed. The Russian natural scientist Mikhail Wassiljewitsch Lomonossow is considered to be the father of this thesis on the "biotic" origin of oil . He first expressed this idea in 1757 in a lecture at a conference of the Imperial Russian Academy of Sciences , which was subsequently published as an article.

Conversion of biomass - formation of unconventional deposits

Daily exposure with bituminous claystones of the Marcellus Formation in their type region in the US state of New York . Such mudstones are - deep in the subsurface - potential host rocks for the crude oil and natural gas of conventional deposits as well as potential target horizons for shale oil and gas production.

In the course of further millions of years, the biomass-rich sequences are exposed to increased pressures and increased temperatures due to cover with further sediments and the continuous lowering of the sediment stacks in somewhat deeper areas of the upper crust ( subsidence ) . Under these conditions, water is first expelled from the sediment and at temperatures up to about 60 ° C, the organic substance contained in the algae biomass is (in addition to carbohydrates and proteins , especially lipids ) in long-chain, solid, insoluble in organic solvents, carbon compounds called kerogens converted ( Stage of diagenesis ). Kerogen type I ( liptinite ) has the best prerequisites for the formation of crude oil due to its high proportion of lipids, but is relatively rare because it mainly originates from deposits in lakes. Most of the crude oil extracted today has instead emerged from the still relatively lipid-rich kerogen type II ( exinite ), which is typical of marine deposits.

From around 60 ° C ( catagenesis stage ), the kerogens are split into shorter-chain gaseous (especially methane ) and liquid hydrocarbons. The oil formation rate increases up to temperatures of 120–130 ° C and decreases again at temperatures above. Between 170 and 200 ° C mainly natural gas and hardly any oil is formed. So-called metagenesis begins at temperatures above 200 ° C. Gas continues to be produced, but no more oil, but a solid carbon residue. The conversion of the kerogens to oil and gas is also called ripening ( engl. : Maturation ) and is roughly with the Industrial smoldering of " oil shale comparable", only that there is higher temperatures and the conversion, as compared with the periods in which Crude oil and gas are produced naturally and extremely quickly. During the natural low-temperature ripening of the kerogens to hydrocarbons, the clay minerals in the sediment apparently also act as catalysts . The temperature range between 60 ° C and 170 ° C, in which primarily crude oil is produced, is called the crude oil window . As a rule, this corresponds to a sinking depth of 2000 to 4000 meters.

The increased pressure in the depth also ensures that the former mud is solidified into rock. Thus, the former biomass-rich sediment has become a hydrocarbon-bearing claystone or, in the case that a relatively high proportion of the plankton consisted of calcareous algae , a hydrocarbon-bearing marl or marl limestone. Such fine-grained rocks, the hydrocarbon content is due to an originally high concentration of biomass, as a petroleum source rocks (engl .: source rocks hereinafter). Most of the petroleum mother rocks come from 400 to 100 million years ago ( Lower Devonian to Lower Cretaceous ). A well-known example in Germany of a rock formation with a high concentration of hydrocarbons is the approximately 180 million year old oil shale of the Lias Epsilon , which is exposed in numerous places above ground in southern Germany (see →  Posidonia slate ) and which is actually a in the North Sea area, where it is deep underground is an important petroleum mother rock.

With the increase in the importance of oil production from petroleum bedrocks by hydraulic fracturing since around the year 2000, the term “petroleum deposit” has expanded in meaning. While traditionally only accumulations of corresponding hydrocarbons outside their source rock (see → Migration ) are referred to as deposits , this term now also includes petroleum mother  rocks. The latter are referred to as unconventional deposits because oil extraction from these rocks with traditional (conventional) methods is not profitable .

Migration - the formation of conventional deposits

Drill core sample from an oil-bearing sandstone layer of the Molasse basin of Upper Austria

Since the “mature” gaseous and liquid hydrocarbons are much more mobile than the solid kerogens, they can escape from the bedrock into an overlying or underlying adjacent rock , benefiting from their low density and the pressure on the bedrock horizon . However, such an escape occurs to a greater extent only if the abovementioned secondary rock is a rock that does not, unlike the very fine-grained host rock, lose a large part of its pore space through compaction, but rather retains a relatively high porosity (e.g. . a sandstone ). From the point at which the hydrocarbons escape into the host rock, also known as primary migration , one traditionally speaks of crude oil or natural gas.

Within the pore space of the host rock, oil and gas then migrate towards the earth's surface due to their relatively low density. Groundwater flows also ensure lateral (lateral) transport. On their way up, oil and gas can encounter impermeable rock layers because they have a low porosity. If these are part of a geological structure that, due to their shape, prevents further migration in a lateral direction, oil and gas accumulate below this sealing rock layer. The corresponding structure is called a geological trap . Such traps arise, for example, from the rise of salt domes . The rock is oil and then collect in the pore space gas is the reservoir rock (Engl .: reservoir rock called). The migration of oil and gas after their exit from the bedrock into the reservoir rock is called secondary migration . If a large amount of crude oil has collected in the storage rock of a trap structure, one speaks of a conventional crude oil deposit . The gas is located in the highest areas of the deposit due to the lowest density. In this context, one also speaks of a gas cap . Below the oil-saturated area of ​​the deposit, the pore space of the storage rock is filled by the groundwater which is always present in the pore space of sedimentary rocks and which has been displaced from the area of ​​the deposit by oil and gas. However, a small proportion of water is still present in the oil and gas-saturated area of ​​the deposit. This is referred to as reservoir water.

Since the low-porosity cover rock (English: seal rock ) of an oil reservoir is seldom completely sealed , smaller amounts of oil and gas can migrate from there further towards the surface and escape there (English: seepage ). In the event that crude oil reaches or just below the surface of the earth as a result of this so-called tertiary migration , oil sands as well as asphalt or bitumen lakes are created (e.g. La Brea Pitch Lake in Trinidad or the La Brea Tar Pits in the US state California ) or, in the case of pure gas leaks, mud volcanoes . In the case of submarine gas escapes, methane hydrate can form at these points in the seabed under suitable conditions .

Subsequent conversions in the deposit

After the formation of a deposit in a trap structure, the petroleum contained therein, e.g. B. by lowering the corresponding crust area, an increase in temperature and thus a "post-ripening" experience. The oil is converted into gas (mainly methane) and bitumen.

If “moving in” natural gas crosses the oil-saturated part of a deposit, this can lead to so-called de-asphalting , in which bitumen also forms in the affected areas of the deposit. These bitumen-enriched areas are known as tar mats .

Alternative hypotheses on the formation of oil and gas

Introduction and historical abiogenetic hypotheses

Alternative hypotheses on the formation of eligible natural gas and oil deposits deny that these emerged from sedimentary biomass in geological time periods. The approaches, therefore also summarized under the name of abiotic or abiogenetic hypotheses , also assume that crude oil and natural gas are not fossil fuels, but juvenile and regenerative fuels.

Early modern abiogenetic theses were formulated in the 19th century by, among others, Alexander von Humboldt and Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac and Dmitri Mendeleev . While Mendeleev assumed that the earth's interior was made of iron carbide , which reacts with groundwater to form hydrocarbons, Humboldt and Gay-Lussac postulated that hydrocarbons came from volcanic sources.

Core statements of modern abiogenetic hypotheses

In the second half of the 20th century, two schools can be distinguished: a Soviet or Russian-Ukrainian one with Nikolai Kudrjawzew as a thought leader and a western one, which was mainly represented by Thomas Gold .

Is common to both schools, that the origin of the hydrocarbons in the upper mantle verorteten from where it along deep-reaching disorders , such as those described in grave fractures occur in the upper regions of the earth's crust migrated. While the Soviet hypothesis postulated that the long-chain and complex hydrocarbons of petroleum would also be formed in the upper mantle, Gold's thesis was based on the assumption that only methane was produced there and that it was only after the methane had migrated to higher crustal areas that it was partially more complex Compounds would be converted (so-called deep gas theory ).

The main arguments put forward by the supporters of the abiogenetic hypothesis were that complex organic compounds were found in chondritic meteorites , which are considered the "primordial matter" of the solar system, where they could not have originated from biomass, and that crude oil in minable quantities in crystalline basement rocks occurs (for example in the Caspian Basin), into which it could only have come from greater depths, but not from younger, sedimentary petroleum mother rocks . In addition, it was concluded from the presence of organic compounds in chondrites and the detection of small amounts of short-chain n-alkanes (methane, ethane, propane, butane) in ultramafic rocks that a strongly reducing chemical environment prevails in the earth's interior, which leads to the formation of Allow hydrocarbons in general.

At the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century, the next generation of proponents of the Russian-Ukrainian hypothesis (Jack F. Kenney, Vladimir Kutscherow) also argued that, on the one hand, the conversion of methane into longer-chain n-alkanes according to the law the thermodynamics is located just under the pressure and temperature conditions of the upper mantle, on the other hand, the conversion of oxygen-containing organic compounds such as carbohydrates , the major constituents of plant biomass, in longer chain n-alkanes by the laws of thermodynamics is generally unfavorable. In doing so, they also rejected Gold’s deep gas theory . A working group led by Kutscherow also succeeded in experimentally demonstrating that methane is partially converted at least into short-chain higher n-alkanes under the pressure and temperature conditions of the upper shell.

Counter arguments

Probably the most important argument against the abiogenetic theses is that the upper mantle very probably does not have a reducing, but a weakly oxidizing chemical environment. The proportion of the various carbon compounds in fluid inclusions in mantle rocks shows that carbon in the upper mantle, if not in pure form as diamond , then predominantly in the form of carbon dioxide or carbonate , and that it is also in this form in the upper crust and on the earth's surface got. In addition, the carbon dioxide is not transported as a pure gas or fluid, but always dissolved in the invading magma.

The presence of economically recoverable hydrocarbon deposits in crystalline rocks can be explained with modern models for the migration of fluids in crustal rocks, which were only developed in the 1990s. The permeability of the crystalline rocks plays a decisive role here. Sufficiently fissured, relatively near-surface crystalline in the edge area of ​​a sedimentary basin can therefore very well be suitable as storage rock for biogenetically formed hydrocarbons that originate from deeply submerged bedrock in central basin areas.

The biogenetic hypothesis also states that crude oil and natural gas are not formed from fresh, but from biomass that has already been partially biotically and partially diagenetically modified, so-called kerogens . Particularly in diagenetically modified, originally biomass-rich marine sediments , the most likely candidates for petroleum mother rocks , the ratio of oxygen to carbon is much smaller than the ratio of hydrogen to carbon, so that thermodynamically favorable conditions for the formation of hydrocarbons prevail in these sediments.

Last but not least, isotope ratios also speak in favor of the biogenetic thesis. The comparison of the δ 13 C values ​​of methane from clearly abiogenic sources with those of methane from almost 1,700 deposits in production showed that probably only 1% of the methane in most oil and gas deposits is of non-biogenic origin.

In fact, there are some examples of larger, sometimes even commercially interesting accumulations of demonstrably abiogenously formed hydrocarbons in the earth's crust, but these were not outgassed from the mantle, but rather formed directly in the upper crust through diagenetic or metasomatic processes. The view taken by Kenney, Kutscherow and a few other scientists that oil and natural gas deposits are primarily the result of vertical migration (dynamic fluid injection) of juvenile hydrocarbons from the earth's mantle into the upper crust, and the consequent conclusion that oil and natural gas there are no finite resources, so that largely depleted deposits are even replenished, thus lacking a serious scientific basis.

The oil exploration

Remote sensing

Precise map material is the basis for the search for oil. In certain areas (e.g. Iran), camp formations can already be seen on the surface of the earth using aerial mapping. This is not sufficient in areas where the deeper layers are largely covered by young formations or in the offshore area. Also, no exact rock types or their age can be determined from aerial photos alone. For this purpose and to check the interpretations of the aerial photos point by point, the geologist must always visit the area in question and carry out as many “explorations” there as possible. Places of interest are those where rocks typical of the underlying oil deposits come to the surface. Small pieces of rock are cut off there and determined with a magnifying glass .


Vibroseis vehicles during 3D exploration in the Alpine foothills of Upper Austria in January 2008

The targeted search for oil and gas deposits is called geophysical prospecting . Physical prospection is the application of physical laws to the exploration of the upper part of the earth's crust . The reliable detection of structures hidden underground, in which oil and (or) natural gas may have accumulated, has become the most important prerequisite for a successful search for hydrocarbons (collective term for oil and natural gas) in recent decades . In the early days of oil production , people had to rely on signs on the earth's surface that indicated the presence of oil. For example, small amounts of crude oil are constantly escaping from shallow deposits. One example of this is the St. Quirins spring near Bad Wiessee am Tegernsee , which has been known since the 15th century but has now dried up , from which crude oil leaked for centuries and was primarily used as a medicinal product . The search for deep-lying oil deposits was previously carried out through a detailed analysis of the geological conditions of a region. As a result, test boreholes were then drilled at selected locations, of which approx. 10-15% were successful.

The exploration begins with the discovery of sedimentary basins. This is often done using gravimetric or geomagnetic measurements. In the next step, seismic reflection is used. Acoustic waves are generated on the surface of the earth, which are reflected on the different soil layers. Different processes are used depending on the application on land or in the water. Sources of seismic waves on land are explosives, falling weights or seismic vibrators. Geophones laid out on the earth's surface serve as sensors to record the waves. In marine seismics, the seismic waves are generated with airguns . The waves are recorded with hydrophones that are either placed on the sea floor or towed behind a ship on the sea surface. Layer profiles can be calculated from the transit times and characteristics of the reflected signals. In the early phase of prospecting, 2-D measurements are carried out, the result of which is layer profiles along intersecting measuring lines. This allows larger areas to be explored inexpensively. Based on the seismic data, the first exploratory drillings are now being carried out. In the next step, 3-D seismic measurements will be carried out in selected areas. The points for generating and measuring seismic waves are designed in such a way that a three-dimensional image of the rock layers is obtained. In combination with borehole geophysical measurement data, a quantitative model of the oil or gas reserves as well as a plan for further boreholes and production can now be created.



Oil well with drill bit , longitudinal section, schematic, cased at the top
Drilling rig with pipe rod sections, next to it a container for the drilling fluid

In general, conventional crude oil is produced today in the following phases:

  • In the first phase (primary production) oil is pumped to the surface through the natural pressure of the enclosed natural gas (eruptive production) or by "pumping".
  • In the second phase (secondary extraction), water or gas is injected into the reservoir (water flooding and gas injection) and additional oil is extracted from the reservoir.
  • In a third phase ( tertiary funding ), more complex substances such as steam, polymers, chemicals, CO 2 or microbes are injected with which the usage rate is increased again.

Depending on the occurrence, 10–30% of the available oil can be extracted in the first phase and a further 10–30% in the second phase; generally 20–60% of the available oil. In view of the high price level and global market dynamics, it is to be expected that tertiary funding will intensify significantly even with "old" deposits.

Oil production from deposits that are located below the bottom of seas or lakes ("off-shore extraction") presents particular difficulties. In order to develop the deposit , drilling platforms ( drilling rigs ) that are standing on the bottom of the water or floating above must be set up, from which drilling and later production (production platforms ) can be carried out. Here is directional drilling advantageous because can be accessed from a drilling platform a larger area.

If there is an oil deposit near the surface of the earth, the bitumen-depleted oil it contains can be extracted in open-cast mining . An example of this is the Athabasca tar sands in Alberta , Canada.

Crude oil is extracted from deeper reservoirs through probes that are drilled to the reservoir.

After the drilling work has been completed, a pure production platform can also be used, for example: Thistle Alpha .

Radioactive waste

Small amounts of radioactive elements generally occur in rocks, most of which originate from the decay series of naturally occurring uranium and thorium , commonly referred to as NORM (Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material). Here isotopes of radium dissolve together with other elements in the deep groundwater, which u. a. also occurs as reservoir water in oil reservoirs.

During oil production, the reservoir water rises together with oil and gas in the production lines to the surface of the earth. As a result of the pressure and temperature decrease , barium , calcium and strontium , and with them the radium, precipitate in the form of sulfates and carbonates , which are deposited on the walls of the pipelines. In the resulting crusts, which are called “scale”, radium accumulates over time. In other equipment used for oil production, e.g. B. water separators , the precipitated sulfates and carbonates are found in sludge, which mainly consists of heavy oil and unintentionally co-promoted, fine mineral components of the storage rock. The long-lived 226 Ra (1600 years half-life ) is particularly problematic .

According to research by WDR employee Jürgen Döschner, millions of tons of such NORM-contaminated residues are produced in crude oil and natural gas production worldwide , including up to 2000 tons in Germany and 3 million tons of oil produced. The specific activity fluctuates relatively strongly, but with the 226 Ra contained in "Scale" it can be up to 15,000 Becquerel per gram (Bq / g), which is in the range of the specific activity of uranium .

Although, according to the Radiation Protection Ordinance of 2001, substances require monitoring from 1 Bq / g (corresponds roughly to the upper range of the natural radioactivity of granite ) and must be disposed of separately, the implementation of this ordinance was left to the responsibility of the industry, which apparently at least partially the waste was handled or disposed of carelessly and improperly. In one case it is documented that waste with an average of 40 Bq / g was stored openly on company premises without any labeling and should not be specially labeled for transport.

In countries where significantly more oil or gas is extracted than in Germany, there is also significantly more waste, but there is no independent, continuous and seamless recording and monitoring of contaminated residues from oil and gas production in any country. The industry deals with the material differently: In Kazakhstan , according to Döschner, an area the size of the Federal Republic is contaminated, in Great Britain the radioactive residues are simply discharged into the North Sea. In the USA , for a long time, above all, high oil content NORM waste for the bacterial breakdown of the hydrocarbon fraction was applied in as thin layers as possible to the surface of the terrain, mostly in the immediate vicinity of the conveyor systems (so-called "land spreading"). The resulting health risks in future land use in these areas are rated as rather low. The extent to which the hazard potential of radioactive oil production equipment has been underestimated or ignored is shown by the case from Martha, a community in the US state of Kentucky . There, the company had Ashland Inc. after the closure of Martha oil field thousands of contaminated feed pipes sold cheaply to farmers, nurseries and schools. Radiation doses of up to 1,100 micro-X-rays per hour occurred on some of these pipes, which were used to build fences or climbing frames, so that the primary school and some residential buildings had to be evacuated immediately after the radiation was discovered.

World reserves and stockpiling

For crude oil, the static range is relatively short and subject to considerable fluctuations. So it was estimated to be 20 years immediately after the two world wars. In spite of significantly higher consumption and very dynamic economic and technological development, it has risen afterwards. After a crisis in the 1970s, it was set for 25 years. Then it rose to a value from 30 to 40 today or even according to the current state of technology, prospected area and consumption over 50 years from the respective present point. This constancy of the range is also referred to with the keyword petroleum constant . It describes the fact that such predictions of the static range of petroleum, as with other raw materials, have to be regularly adjusted due to the discovery of further deposits and in view of advances in production technology.

In the early 2000s, the world's largest reserves were located in Saudi Arabia . But because the costs of extracting unconventional oil deposits, such as oil sand or heavy oil, have fallen so far that they are almost in the range of the costs of conventional oil extraction, such unconventional deposits are now added to the oil reserves of a country. Therefore, in 2013 the largest oil reserves were in Venezuela (298.3 billion barrels - of which 220.5 in the Orinoco heavy oil belt), followed by Saudi Arabia (265.9), Canada (174.3 - of which 167.8 as Oil sands), Iran (157.0) and Iraq (150.0) (see Petroleum Tables and Graphs: Reserves by Country for an exact table).

According to a work report from the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology from 2006 and data from the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Raw Materials , “sufficient availability” of crude oil is only given for about 20 years without the inclusion of unconventional deposits. According to a Science article by Leonard Maugeri from Eni, however, the age of oil is far from over, whereas Murray & King 2012 showed that the production maximum ( peak oil ) had already occurred in 2005. This can be seen in the changed price elasticity of the subsidy.

For the year 2008, the confirmed world reserves were calculated at 1,329 billion barrels (182 billion tons according to Oeldorado 2009 by ExxonMobil) or 1258 billion barrels (172.3 billion tons according to BP Statistical Review 2009), depending on the source . The reserves that are located and can be economically extracted with the technology available today have increased slightly overall in recent years, despite the annual production volumes. While reserves in the Middle East , East Asia and South America declined due to depletion of deposits and insufficient prospecting , they increased slightly in Africa and Europe .

Crude oil prices (nominal and real) since 1861

After a few years of high oil prices in the order of 100 US dollars per barrel, prices fell in the second half of 2014 to barely more than 40 dollars in January 2015. Experts blamed a supply overhang for this drop in prices. After Iran's return to the market in January 2016 and the fight for regional supremacy by Saudi Arabia in this context, as well as because of Russia's unrestricted support, it was foreseeable that the oversupply would continue for a certain time at a price now around 50 dollars .

The countries of the European Union are obliged to maintain a 90-day supply as a strategic oil reserve for times of crisis. A large part of the German and a smaller part of the foreign stocks are in the underground caverns in the Zechstein salt in the Wilhelmshaven area , where most of the oil is imported into Germany. In Austria, the petroleum storage company is responsible for this.

Global oil reserves in 2013 in billions of barrels
Region / organization 2013 BP estimate
OECD 248.8
CIS 131.8
China 18.1
Asia Pacific 42.1
Latin America 329.6
middle East 808.5
Africa 130.3
world 1687.9

With a daily consumption at the current level of approx. 90 million barrels, this results in a life of around 51 years at 1,687.9 billion barrels. When assessing this number, however, one must bear in mind that the oil shortage does not only occur after the (static or dynamic) service life of the oil has expired. Because unlike a tank, oil reservoirs cannot extract any amount of oil per day (production rate). Rather, there is a maximum possible production rate, which is often reached when the source is about half exploited. After that, their delivery rate drops (for physical reasons). A similar behavior is assumed by many experts for the oil production of the world: After reaching a global production maximum ("Peak Oil", see above) the global production rate decreases. From a purely mathematical point of view, there is still enough oil available at this point in time to cover the current daily consumption, even if this is even increasing compared to today, but the oil can not be extracted from the deposits sufficiently quickly and is therefore not available to the economy Available. The finiteness of the resource crude oil becomes noticeable long before its reach expires. The running time of the oil calculated here is therefore of little economic importance; what is more interesting is the temporal course of the global production maximum and the amount of the subsequent decline in production.

Critics of such reserve data point out, however, that most of the reserves from non- OECD countries are not subject to any independent control (see footnotes of the BP statistical review). Often (as in Saudi Arabia) all information on production data for individual fields and reserves is subject to state secrecy. Therefore, critics assume that these figures are falsified. Many OPEC producing countries are also assumed to be too optimistic about their reserves, as the allocated production quotas depend on the reported reserve quantities.

World funding

Oil discoveries from 1930 to 2050 and production until 2001, source: ASPO
Top 10 Oil Companies in 2019, by Annual Revenue (USD billion).

The most important oil producing countries are currently (as of 2013) Saudi Arabia (11,525,000 barrels / day; 13.1% of world production), the Russian Federation (10,788,000; 12.4%), the USA (10,003,000; 11 , 5%), the People's Republic of China (4,180,000; 4.8%) and Canada (3,948,000; 4.6%). The twelve OPEC countries currently account for 36.8 million barrels / day, 42.5% of world production. In 2009, Russia was still the largest producer (10,139,000 barrels / day; 12.5% ​​of world production) followed by Saudi Arabia (9,663,000; 11.9%), the USA (7,263,000; 8.9%) %), Iran (4,249,000; 5.2%) and China (3,805,000; 4.7%) (see also petroleum tables and graphics: production ). The oil production in Germany initially covered up to 80% of national demand and historically had a great importance, but today only accounts for 2%.

According to Abdallah Dschumʿa (then managing director of Aramco ) at the beginning of 2008 , around 1.1 trillion barrels of oil have been produced in human history . Most of the reserves were discovered in the 1960s. From the beginning of the 1980s, the annual production (2005) is 30.4 billion barrels (87 million barrels per day consumption in 2008) - above the capacity of the newly discovered reserves, so that the existing reserves have been decreasing since then.

For this reason, some experts expect a global funding maximum between 2010 and 2020. Kenneth Deffeyes , Colin J. Campbell and Jean Laherrere fear that the maximum was reached before 2010. One consequence of this maximum funding would be a subsequent decline in funding, so that the demand forecast parallel to economic growth would no longer be adequately covered.

The British government, the US Department of Energy and the central analysis service of the US armed forces, US Joint Forces Command, presented increasingly critical analyzes in which short-term impending deficiency scenarios were described. The British government was apparently responding to the fact that England's oil wealth had been falling steadily since 1999 and went from being an oil exporter to being an importer in 2006.

Jumʿa rejects such fears. He estimates that only less than 10% of the existing liquid oil reserves have been extracted and (including non-conventional reserves), with today's consumption rates, oil will still be available for at least 100 years.

While in the 1970s private western oil companies still controlled almost 50 percent of global oil production, this share fell to less than 15 percent in 2008. By far the largest share is funded by state-owned companies. Experts do not consider a shortage of oil to be a given, there is a crisis in access to advanced technology (the multinationals) or, conversely, in the lack of investment security in the state-controlled oil-producing countries.


Crude oil is transported over long distances worldwide. The transport from the production sites to the consumers takes place by sea with oil tankers , overland mainly by means of pipelines .

Oil disasters

Every year around 100,000 tons end up in the sea in tanker accidents with sometimes catastrophic consequences for the environment. Most notable was the Exxon Valdez accident in 1989 off Alaska . Since the oil was not used to stop and suck off the oil immediately after the accident, the oil spill widened and contaminated over 2000 km of the coast. The cleaning measures carried out afterwards proved to be ineffective; the catastrophic ecological consequences sparked a broad public discussion about the risks and dangers of maritime oil transports. The accident ultimately led to an increase in the safety requirements for oil tankers and an intensive investigation of possible measures to combat oil gaps.

Another serious oil spill was the fire and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010. Crude oil leaked over several months, totaling over 500,000 tons. This accident caused an oil spill on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico . The Mississippi Delta was also affected.

A permanent release takes place in Nigeria , see also oil disaster in the Niger Delta .


The share of crude oil in primary energy consumption is around 40%, making it the number one energy supplier. The largest single energy consumer is road traffic.

World consumption

Daily consumption worldwide in 2015 was around 94.5 million barrels with a production of 96.3 million barrels. The largest consumers in 2013 were the USA (18.9 million barrels / day), the People's Republic of China (10.8), Japan (4.6), India (3.7) and Russia (3.3). In 2013, Germany was the world's eleventh largest consumer with a daily consumption of 2.38 million barrels. (See petroleum tables and graphs: Consumption for detailed information).

World consumption is currently increasing by 2% per year. The increase is due to a sharp rise in oil consumption in the emerging countries such as China, India and Brazil. In the industrialized countries, on the other hand, consumption has been declining for a long time despite continued growth in gross domestic product . That is, these economies are becoming less dependent on oil. Nevertheless, per capita consumption in the industrialized countries is still significantly higher than in the emerging countries.

Consumption in Germany

Annual crude oil imports of the Federal Republic of Germany

In Germany, 2.82 million tons of crude oil were produced in 2016. The share of crude oil obtained from German sources is around 3% of consumption, the most productive source being the Mittelplate production area in Schleswig-Holstein . In the same period the Federal Republic imported 91 million tons of crude oil.

In Germany, a total of 112.5 million tons of crude oil were consumed in 2017, which were further processed in oil refineries, which are themselves supplied via oil pipelines . The most important supplier with about 33.5 million tons or about 37 percent of the oil imports was Russia, followed by Norway with about 10.3 million tons and the United Kingdom with 8.5 million tons. In total, more than 30 countries delivered oil to Germany.

In 2007, 3.8% of the finished oil products produced were used directly by industry as a source of energy, 53.7% were used by the entire transport sector such as road traffic (individual traffic, passenger and freight transport), air traffic (kerosene) and inland shipping, 12% took up heating energy for end consumers, 4.9% that of commercial enterprises and public institutions. 1.7% required agriculture and forestry, and finally 23.9% were used as starting materials for chemical processing, for example into fertilizers, herbicides, lubricants, plastics (e.g. injection molded products, rubber articles, foams, textile fibers), paints, and varnishes , Cosmetics, food additives, medicines, etc. Ä.

The consumption of finished oil products has declined annually by around 1.5% since the 1990s, partly due to progressive energy savings (see Energy Saving Ordinance ), partly due to a switch to natural gas or alternative energy sources such as biodiesel , solar thermal , wood pellets , biogas and geothermal energy .

In terms of value, on the other hand, imports of crude oil and natural gas to Germany in 2006 alone rose by more than a quarter (+28.4%) to 67.8 billion euros compared to the previous year 2005, with the provisional peak in 2008 it last 83 billion euros with a further increase of + 10% compared to the previous year 2007. According to the Federal Statistical Office, crude oil and natural gas imports grew from 14.44 billion to 82.26 billion euros over the entire period from 1995 to 2008, with a share of originally 4.3%, now 10% of all imports.

According to preliminary figures up to November 2009, the most important oil and gas supplier for Germany was Russia with a third (33.2%) of the raw material imports valued at 34.708 billion euros . It was followed by Norway , whose oil and gas shipments of 14.220 billion euros represented 14% of imports. The third most important supplier country for Germany was the United Kingdom with deliveries worth 10.636 billion euros, which made up 10% of all German oil and natural gas imports. In view of the decline in North Sea oil production volumes from 590 to 980 kilobarrel / day by 2014, this space is likely to be ceded to Libya in the next few years .


The first oil refinery was built in 1859. The price of oil fell significantly and the number of refineries increased. Luminous oils, especially petroleum, made new light sources possible.

After the introduction of electric light, petroleum was initially no longer attractive, but soon after the development of the automobile , the Rockefeller family, as co-founders of the Standard Oil Company, pushed through the use of the petroleum product gasoline as gasoline instead of the ethanol initially proposed by Henry Ford .

In the crude oil refinery , crude oil is broken down into its various components such as light and heavy heating oil , kerosene and gasoline in distillation columns, among other things. In further steps a wide variety of alkanes and alkenes can be produced from petroleum .


Simplified crude oil processing scheme

In the chemical industry, oil occupies an important position. Most chemical products can be made up of around 300 basic chemicals. Today, around 90% of these molecular compounds are obtained from crude oil and natural gas. These include: ethene , propene , 1,3-butadiene , benzene , toluene , o- xylene , p-xylene (these represent the largest proportion).

Approx. 6–7% of the global oil production is used for chemical product trees, the far greater proportion is simply burned in power plants and engines. The importance of these petroleum products is obvious: If there is no longer any petroleum, these basic chemicals have to be produced using complex and cost-intensive processes with high energy requirements.

Almost any chemical product can be produced from crude oil. This includes paints and varnishes, pharmaceuticals, detergents and cleaning agents, to name just a few.

( Petroleum refinery )
→ increasing boiling point
Gas oil
Vacuum gas oil
Vacuum residue
AvGas ("aviation fuel")
light heating oil
Lubricating oils
heavy fuel oil , heavy oil ,
bitumen , coke , soot
( Steam cracking )
( Cracking )
Olefins and
( Polymerization )

Composition, properties and classification


Oil sample from Wietze in Lower Saxony
Composition according to chemical elements
carbon 83-87%
hydrogen 10-14%
nitrogen 0.1-2%
oxygen 0.1-1.5%
sulfur 0.5-6%
Metals <1000 ppm

Petroleum is mainly a mixture of many hydrocarbons. The most common hydrocarbons are linear or branched alkanes (paraffins), cycloalkanes (naphthenes) and aromatics. Every crude oil has a special chemical composition depending on where it was found, which also determines the physical properties such as color and viscosity.

The color and consistency vary from transparent and thin to deep black and thick. Due to the sulfur compounds it contains, petroleum has a characteristic odor that can switch between pleasant and disgusting and repulsive. Color, consistency and smell are very much dependent on the geographic origin of the petroleum. Some types of oil fluoresce under ultraviolet light due to different co-formulants, such as quinones or polyaromatics.

With more than 17,000 components, unrefined petroleum (crude oil) is a very complex mixture of organic substances that occur naturally on earth. In addition to the pure hydrocarbons, carbon compounds that contain heteroatoms such as nitrogen (amines, porphyrins), sulfur (thiols, thioethers) or oxygen (alcohols, quinones) are part of petroleum. Metals such as iron, copper, vanadium and nickel are also found. The proportion of pure hydrocarbons varies considerably. It can be between 97% and 50% for heavy oils and bitumen.

Content of volatile compounds

In the petroleum industry and geology, a distinction is made between “light” crude oil with a relatively high proportion of volatile, low molecular weight hydrocarbons and “heavy” crude oil with a relatively high proportion of less volatile, low molecular weight hydrocarbons as well low-volatility, high-molecular organic compounds (resins, waxes, asphaltenes ). The terms “light” and “heavy” relate to the specific weight or density of the crude oil, which increases as the proportion of volatile hydrocarbons decreases. The so-called API grade is often given as a measure of the density of a type of crude oil , which is calculated from the relative density of the oil in relation to water, among other things.

The ratio between volatile and non-volatile compounds is also responsible for the color and viscosity of the crude oil: the higher the proportion of volatile compounds, the lighter and less viscous the oil.

West Texas Intermediate (WTI) and North Sea oil Brent (each approx. 35 to 40 ° API) are among the "light" types of crude oil, while Merey from Venezuela (16 ° API) is a heavy type of crude oil . Crude oils with less than 10 ° API are generally referred to as asphalt (see also →  oil sands ).

Sulfur content

Low-sulfur crude oil is called "sweet" (English sweet crude oil , including the variety Brent ), high sulfur "sour crude oil " (English sour crude oil , including the varieties Mars and Poseidon mined in the Gulf of Mexico ). The sulfur contained in crude oil and refined products is oxidized by combustion to the gas sulfur dioxide (SO 2 ), a small part of which is converted into sulfur trioxide (SO 3 ) by reaction with atmospheric oxygen, catalyzed by atmospheric dust . Sulfur dioxide and sulfur trioxide combine with atmospheric water to form sulphurous acid (H 2 SO 3 ) or sulfuric acid (H 2 SO 4 ), which when diluted in the rest of the atmospheric water fall down as so-called acid rain and cause various ecological and structural problems.

In order to reduce the emission of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, fuels obtained from crude oil were desulphurised from around 1980 onwards and across the board from around 2000 onwards. Heavy oil , which is used as fuel on ocean-going ships, was initially excluded. The sulfur obtained during desulphurisation is a cost-effective raw material for the chemical industry that replaces the mineral sulfur obtained through mining. As an alternative to the direct desulfurization of crude oil, the flue gas is scrubbed , especially in coal and oil-fired power plants, and gypsum powder (CaSO 4 ) is generated by blowing in lime dust (CaCO 3 ) , which can then be used technically (see →  Flue gas desulfurization ).


According to a study by the British Overseas Development Institute, the leading industrialized and emerging countries subsidize the exploration of oil reserves with 71 billion euros per year - and thus undermine their own climate policy.

Oil exit

Due to various environmental problems that arise from the extraction of crude oil and the use and combustion of crude oil products (production accidents, pipeline leaks, tanker accidents, plastic waste , climate change  - when a barrel of the fossil fuel oil is burned , approx. 320 kg of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide , which is the main cause global warming applies), various organizations are calling for the use of crude oil as a raw material to be restricted or even stopped entirely. The term petroleum exit is used for the endeavors of a state to become completely independent of crude oil .

In the course of the gradual global rethinking in this regard, the Rockefeller family , whose fortunes can primarily be traced back to the extraction of oil in the early 20th century, set an example in March 2016: They sold their shares in companies that run their business do with fossil fuels. In particular, the Rockefellers sold their shares in the oil company ExxonMobil .

See also


Web links

 Wikinews: Petroleum  - In The News
Commons : Petroleum  album with pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Petroleum  - Explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

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This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on September 2, 2005 .