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Earth's physical resources: Petroleum


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Oil and gas seeps have been known since earliest recorded history. Sticky black asphalt was used by the Babylonians as a roofing material, the ancient Egyptians used it to preserve their dead, and Noah supposedly caulked his Ark with it. In Azerbaijan gas seeps have burned for centuries, and therefore it is perhaps surprising that the world's first major underground oilfield was discovered in Pennsylvania, USA only as recently as 1859. That discovery launched an era in which the world became increasingly reliant on cheap energy provided by oil and gas, a reliance assured by the invention of the internal combustion engine in the late 19th century. Only now, as the issues of long-term sustainability and climate change become more apparent, are we beginning to think about unshackling ourselves from that dependency.

This unit begins by examining the geological characteristics of petroleum and the key ingredients necessary to form oil and gas accumulations. Then there is a brief description of industrial operations during the life cycle of an oilfield, starting with subsurface analysis and exploration drilling. The unit also highlights the role of safety and environmental management as an integral part of the petroleum business and concludes with a short review of global resources and non-conventional petroleum.

You will find definitions of terms highlighted in bold in the glossary towards the end of this unit (use the 'Jump to' facility on the navigation bar above).

This unit is from our archive and is an adapted extract from Earth's physical resources: origin, use and environmental impact (S278) which is no longer taught by The Open University. If you want to study formally with us, you may wish to explore other courses we offer in this subject area [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .