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is a liquid that is found underground. Sometimes we call it oil. Oil can be as thick and black as tar or as thin as water. Petroleum has a lot of energy. We can turn it into different fuels—like gasoline, kerosene, and heating oil. Most plastics and inks are made from petroleum, too.

People have burned oil for a long time. Long ago, they didn’t dig for it. They gathered oil that seeped from under the ground into ponds. It floated on the water.

Petroleum is a Fossil Fuel

Long before the dinosaurs, oceans covered most of the earth. They were filled with tiny sea animals and plants. As the plants and animals died, they sank to the ocean floor. Sand and sediment covered them and turned into sedimentary rock. Millions of years passed. The weight of the rock and heat from the earth turned them into petroleum.

Petroleum is called a fossil fuel because it was made from the remains of plants and animals. The energy in petroleum came from the energy in the plants and animals. That energy came from the sun.

Petroleum is Nonrenewable

The petroleum we use today was made millions of years ago. It took millions of years to form. We can’t make more in a short time. That’s why we call petroleum nonrenewable. The United States doesn’t produce enough oil to meet our needs. We import more than half the oil we use from other countries.


We Drill Oil Wells

Petroleum is buried underground in tiny pockets in rocks. We drill oil wells into the rocks to pump out the oil. Some wells are more than two miles deep and can stretch more than eight miles sideways. Texas and Alaska are the states that produce the most oil.

A lot of oil is under the oceans along our shores. Oil rigs that can float are used to reach this oil. Most of these wells are in the Gulf of Mexico.


After the oil is pumped to the surface, it is sent to refineries. At the refineries, it is separated into different types of products and made into fuels. Most of the oil is made into gasoline. The oil is moved from one place to another through pipelines and by ships and trucks.

We Use Petroleum Every Day

What would we do without petroleum? Our country would come to a stop. Most of our cars, trucks, and planes are powered by fuel made from oil.

Our factories use oil to make plastics and paints, medicines and soaps. We even burn oil to make electricity. We use more petroleum than any other energy source.

Petroleum can pollute.

Petroleum keeps us going, but it can damage our environment. Burning fuels made from oil can pollute the air. Pollution from cars is a big problem in many parts of the country. Oil companies are making cleaner gasoline and and diesel fuel every year.

Oil can pollute soil and water, injuring the animals that live in the area. Oil companies work hard to drill and ship oil as safely as possible. They try to clean up any oil that spills.


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