Crude Oil – Political Fodder?

With all the publicity nowadays surrounding the price of Crude Oil, I resolved to write an enlightening article on the backdrop of the so-called “Black Gold.” I’ll briefly go over history, environmental effects, pricing and the future of the thick black sludge that is coveted by every major economy in the world. Hopefully you can reach a better point of view on the subject.

The history of Crude Oil is too immense to discuss in this brief editorial so I will limit it to a general overview. The first oil wells were drilled in China in the 4th century. They where as much as 243 meters deep and were drilled utilizing drill bits attached to bamboo poles. The contemporary history of crude began in 1846, with the breakthrough of the process of refining kerosene from coal by Atlantic Canada’s Abraham Pineo Gesner. The first rock oil mine was built in Bobrka, Poland the following year. These breakthroughs rapidly spread around the world, and Meerzoeff built the first Russian refinery in the mature oil fields at Baku in 1861.

James Miller Williams in Oil Springs, Ontario, Canada in 1858, excavated the first commercial oil well drilled in North America. The American petroleum industry commenced with Edwin Drake’s discovery of oil in 1859, near Titusville, Pennsylvania. The industry matured slowly in the 1800s, driven by the demand for kerosene and oil lamps. It became a major national business in the early part of the 20th century. With the introduction of the internal combustion engine came a need that has largely sustained the industry to this day.

While we all need to get to work in some way or another, rarely does anyone consider the environmental effects of the fuel that powers our mode of transportation. Yes we know that the emissions from are cars, buses and trains have a green house effect on our delicate environment; but what about the rest of our ecology?

Oil extraction is costly and occasionally environmentally detrimental, although Dr. John Hunt from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution revealed in a 1981 paper that over 70% of the reserves in the world are associated with visible macroseepages, and numerous oil fields are found due to natural leaks. Offshore exploration and extraction of oil agitates the encompassing marine environment. Exploration could call for dredging, which stirs up the sea bottom, stamping out the ocean plants that nautical creatures need to survive. Not to mention the typical Crude Oil and refined fuel spills from tanker ship accidents. All of these factors have tainted frail ecosystems all over the world.

Petroleum products are priced like most commodities: supply and demand. While this may sound simple, the actual start to finish process can be a lot more complex subject. References to oil prices are generally related to the spot price of either WTI/Light Crude as traded on New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX). Priced by the barrel, Crude Oil is rapidly becoming the most costly commodity on the market (second only to Gold).

Oil pricing is extremely reliant on both its grade and location. The vast majority of oil will not be traded on an exchange but on an over-the-counter basis, typically with reference to a standard crude oil grade that is quoted via a pricing agency such as Argus Media Ltd or Platts. It is often claimed that OPEC arranges the oil price and the real monetary value of a barrel of oil is in the area of $2, which is equivalent to the cost of extraction of a barrel in the Middle East. These appraisals of costs disregard the cost of finding and developing oil reserves.

You can’t talk about the future of oil without talking about the “Hubbert Peak” oil theory. This hypothesis depicts the long-term rate of production of conventional oil and other fuels. It assumes that oil reserves are not replenishable. It also predicts that future world oil production must unavoidably reach a crest and then decline as these reserves are exhausted. Like every other theory of any importance it is highly controversial. “When will the Oil actually start to run out?” is the big question.

No matter how you look at it, our society needs to concentrate more efforts on either alternative fuels or more fuel-efficient modes of transportation. While I’m sure that the oil won’t peter out in my life time I would like to think we can leave this world a better place for future generations.

In closing, I hope this article has given you a better understanding of the topic and made you a more informed consumer. So the next time your grumbling at the price of gas, at least you’ll understand what you’re complaining about.

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