The importance of the oil in our lives is huge: if this precious liquid were to speak, our cities, our industries, transport means would stop as the effect of a spell, and a block paralysis sudden almost all our activities .
But, is oil that important? Certainly, and not only because it makes cars, ships, airplanes move, but also because it has a multitude of applications and jobs, in addition to the transport field, so much so that we can say that oil products are used , in the most diverse forms, practically in everything.
The word petroleum indicates, in general, the liquid mineral substances that are found together in the subsoil and whose name is hydrocarbon; oil, in fact, which is also used at home and which we can buy in grocery stores, is but one of the many products that can be extracted from hydrocarbons; now, however, its name is commonly used to indicate the set of hydrocarbons that can be extracted from the guts of the earth. Hydrocarbons are actually found in large underground deposits, in many parts of the earth and, from these deposits, they must be extracted in order to be able to explore them industrially.
How was oil formed in the deposits?
It is commonly said that it has an “organic” origin, that is, it derives from the transformation of organic substances, especially from the decomposition of marine organisms. Naturally, to explain this origin, it is necessary to go far back in time, thousands and thousands of years ago.
In the past, really, in the areas where oil deposits were discovered today, large quantities of these substances, plants, foliage, entire forests and animal remains of all kinds that were buried on earth, either by the action of rain or wind , whether due to earthquakes and major soil cataclysms. These substances, over the centuries, have slowly been transformed into that set of liquids that we know under the name of oil.
At this point, it is important to know that the subsoil is not always formed by the same type of soil that we see on the surface, but presents a very varied composition, so that many layers of material of different consistency alternate. Thus, a layer of porous earth, through which water can filter, can be followed by a layer of rock, which cannot be crossed by groundwater. In the subsoil there are also permeable layers and impermeable layers.
When oil is underground, it constitutes true and subterranean lakes, which are found between one layer and another, or else, permeates layers of permeable ground; and as oil, just like oil in wine bottles, floats on water, it always tends to come upwards: naturally, it rises until it finds a layer of absolutely impermeable ground that blocks the movement of the masses of hydrocarbons , that is, when the layer is more or less V-shaped from the top to the top.
Now, it is easy to understand that if Man, with his equipment, manages to drill a hole through the impermeable layer, the oil, which seeks to rise, will find an exit through this opening and will flow, like a fountain, to the surface.
The oil wells are constituted precisely by these drilling operations, which are carried out by suitable drilling rigs or large probes, supported by “drilling towers”, which the Americans call derricks; today they reach depths of four thousand or five thousand meters and even more.
The oil, once extracted, is conducted, in general, through very long pipes, called pipelines, to the ports of embarkation, in which it is loaded on ships properly equipped for its transportation: the oil tankers. These ships unload the “crude” oil in the places where the refineries are installed, large establishments, where the crude oil is prepared to obtain the products in current use. Crude oil, as is known, is composed of several hydrocarbons and refining consists of separating the various products as they are heated, when they evaporate. In the beginning, the purest products are obtained: naphtha, lighting oil, lubricating oils and, finally, petroleum jelly, paraffin and asphalt.
From this brief summary, it is easy to understand why oil is so important: its derivatives are used, it can be said, in almost all human activities. From gasoline, which makes automobiles and airplanes move, to naphtha, which is used for diesel, truck and automotive engines, to those giant ships. Even oil can be obtained from electricity: in thermoelectric plants , in fact, the dynamos that produce energy are powered by diesel engines. Lubricating oils are essential for the proper functioning of any type of engine; asphalt and bitumen are used in the construction of highways, but that is not all: from petroleum, today even plastic materials are obtained.
However, this liquid, now so indispensable, only a few dozen years ago, was considered almost useless.
At the beginning of the last century, when the Russians took over the oil region of Baku, Tsar Alexander ordered the sending of a committee of scientists from the Imperial Academy of Sciences to that region to learn about the possibilities of exploiting that “soil oil”. Here is the strange opinion of such scientists: “Oil is a mineral without any use. It is a liquid that is not susceptible to any use, except to grease the wheels of the local carts, which shake terribly ”.