Petroleum (from Latin: petra: “rock” + oleum: “oil”.) is a naturally occurring, yellow-to-black liquid found in geological formations beneath the Earth’s surface. It is commonly refined into various types of fuels. Components of petroleum are separated using a technique called fractional distillation i.e. separation of a liquid mixture into fractions differing in boiling point by means of distillation, typically using a fractionating column.
It consists of hydrocarbons of various molecular weights and other organic compounds. The name petroleum covers both naturally occurring unprocessed crude oil and petroleum products that are made up of refined crude oil. A fossil fuel, petroleum is formed when large quantities of dead organisms, usually zooplankton and algae, are buried underneath sedimentary rock and subjected to both intense heat and pressure.
Petroleum has mostly been recovered by oil drilling (natural petroleum springs are rare). Drilling is carried out after studies of structural geology (at the reservoir scale), sedimentary basin analysis, and reservoir characterisation (mainly in terms of the porosity and permeability of geologic reservoir structures) have been completed. It is refined and separated, most easily by distillation, into a large number of consumer products, from gasoline (petrol) and kerosene to asphalt and chemical reagents used to make plastics and pharmaceuticals. Petroleum is used in manufacturing a wide variety of materials, and it is estimated that the world consumes about 95 million barrels each day.
Concern over the depletion of the earth’s finite reserves of oil, and the effect this would have on a society dependent on it, is a concept known as peak oil. The use of fossil fuels, such as petroleum, has a negative impact on Earth’s biosphere, damaging ecosystems through events such as oil spills and releasing a range of pollutants into the air including ground-level ozone and sulfur dioxide from sulfur impurities in fossil fuels.