Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

A Barrel of Crude Oil, from Top to Bottom

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

A Barrel of Crude Oil, from Top to Bottom

Article excerpt

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NEW YORK (AP) - As the wildly swinging price of a barrel of crude oil grabs headlines and stirs fears of higher inflation, some folks might wonder: Just what is a barrel of oil?

Physically, it's the unit by which oil is sold, a relic of early days in the industry when drillers filled 42-gallon barrels with crude oil. Nowadays, however, oil is bought and sold in amounts equivalent to thousands of barrels.

Crude oil is as it sounds, a raw, unrefined version of the century's most important fossil fuel.

Before oil is used by businesses or consumers as gasoline or other products, it is refined. That is a process of cooking and distilling that actually turns the 42 gallons of crude into a little more than 44 gallons of petroleum products, even though nothing is added.

``You do get more product than the crude,'' said Jim Williams of the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry's trade group in Washington.

``After you break it up into various gasoline and diesel and stuff, you've rearranged the molecules. It's just rearranged differently. You're just changing the chemical makeup of the crude oil to make it more usable.''

The 2.03 gallons that appear through the molecular shuffling is known as the ``processing gain.''

The refining is done in stages, with the first step occurring as crude oil is heated at the bottom of a ``distillation tower.''

The oil turns to gas and rises, with various portions of the barrel condensing into liquids at different heights of the tower. At certain points of the tower, the refinery equipment collects the liquids that can be blended into gasoline. …

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