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What is crude oil and what are petroleum products?

Crude oil is a mixture of hydrocarbons that formed from plants and animals that lived millions of years ago. Crude oil is a fossil fuel, and it exists in liquid form in underground pools or reservoirs, in tiny spaces within sedimentary rocks, and near the surface in tar (or oil) sands. Petroleum products are fuels made from crude oil and other hydrocarbons contained in natural gas. Petroleum products can also be made from coal, natural gas, and biomass.

Products made from crude oil

After crude oil is removed from the ground, it is sent to a refinery where different parts of the crude oil are separated into useable petroleum products. These petroleum products include gasoline, distillates such as diesel fuel and heating oil, jet fuel, petrochemical feedstocks, waxes, lubricating oils, and asphalt.

A U.S 42-gallon barrel of crude oil yields about 45 gallons of petroleum products in U.S. refineries because of refinery processing gain. This increase in volume is similar to what happens to popcorn when it is popped.

Last updated: May 5, 2017

Diatoms magnified under a microscope.

Diatom image: Group of cleaned frustules

Source: Image used by permission from Micrographia

How was crude oil formed?

Crude oil was formed from the remains of animals and plants (diatoms) that lived millions of years ago in a marine environment before the existence of dinosaurs. Over millions of years, the remains of these animals and plants were covered by layers of sand, silt, and rock. Heat and pressure from these layers turned the remains into what we now call crude oil. The word petroleum means rock oil or oil from the earth.

Three images,  about Petroleum & Natural Gas Formation. Adapted from the National Energy Education Development Project.
              The first image is about the Ocean 300 to 400 million years ago. Tiny sea plants and animals died and were buried on the ocean floor. Over time, they were covered by layers of sand and silt.
              The second image is about the Ocean 50 to 100 million years ago. Over millions of years, the remains were buried deeper and deeper. The enormous heat and pressure turned them into oil and gas.
              The third image is about Oil & Gas Deposits. Today, we drill down through layers of sand, silt, and rock to reach the rock formations that contain oil and gas deposits.

Last updated: December 13, 2016

Crude oil and petroleum statistics

Preliminary data for the United States for 2016. Units are in barrels per day (b/d), except where noted.


Petroleum production (crude oil, other petroleum liquids, and renewable fuels) 13,504,000 b/d
Crude oil production
8,875,000 b/d
U.S. crude oil imports
7,877,000 b/d
Petroleum product imports
2,181,000 b/d
Net petroleum imports
4,870,000 b/d
Dependence on net petroleum imports
Top crude oil import source
Canada–3,256,000 b/d
Top total petroleum import source
Canada–3,798,000 b/d
Crude oil imports from OPEC
3,181,000 b/d
Petroleum product imports from OPEC
264,000 b/d
Top crude oil producing state Texas–3,213,000 b/d

Consumption and disposition

Petroleum consumption
19,631,000 b/d
Motor gasoline consumption
9,327,000 b/d (392 million gallons/day)
Share of petroleum consumption for transportation
Total petroleum exports
5,188,000 b/d


Crude oil domestic first price (wellhead price)
Refiner acquisition cost of crude oil (composite)
Motor gasoline retail price (all grades)
Regular grade motor gasoline retail price  
Premium grade motor gasoline retail price  
Federal motor gasoline tax
18.4 cents/gallon
Average state motor gasoline taxes
27.30 cents/gallon (as of Jan. 1, 2017)
Federal on-highway diesel fuel taxes
24.40 cents/gallon
Average state on-highway diesel fuel taxes
27.94 cents/gallon (as of Jan. 1, 2017)

Refining and reserves

Number of operable petroleum refineries (as of January 1, 2016)
Largest refinery in distillation capacity (as of January 1, 2016) #1–Port Arthur, Texas
(Motiva Enterprises LLC) 603,000 b/d
Top petroleum refining state (as of January 1, 2016) #1–Texas 5,452,250 b/d
Proved reserves of crude oil (as of December 31, 2015)
32,318 million barrels
Strategic petroleum reserve
695 million barrels


World total oil supply (2016)
97,166,000 b/d
World total petroleum consumption (2015)
95,362,000 b/d


Gallons (U.S.) of oil per barrel

Last updated: May 30, 2017