Cancel Oil? Not So Fast

By Jim Borneman, Editor In Chief

Recently, oil and oil prices have been center stage. For those old enough to remember the 1970’s oil crisis, it is a bit of an unwelcome familiarity.

The twist this time is the emergence of an anti-oil movement that blatantly wants the world free of oil and all fossil fuels.

This is central to the green movement that has entered U.S. policy and politics. Even President Biden, in CNN’s broadcast of the Democratic debate on March 15, 2020, stated: “Number one, no more subsidies for [the] fossil fuel industry. No more drilling on federal lands. No more drilling, including offshore. No ability for the oil industry to continue to drill, period ….”

Not exactly a steady, planned transition to a lower carbon world, but a clear message to the oil industry, and industry beyond gasoline.

Importantly, oil has become synonymous with gasoline. But what are the real ramifications for an “oil-free” world? And what really results from refining a 42-gallon barrel of oil?

The Petroleum Service Co. (PSC) offered some insight into the issue when it published “What’s in a Barrel of Oil? The 42-Gallon Breakdown” in March 2022.

The article details the make-up of crude and begs the question, “If gasoline accounts for 46 percent of our oil barrel, what’s happening to the other 54 percent?”

Aside from the 46-percent gasoline, 26 percent of the barrel becomes diesel and other fuels, 9 percent is turned into jet fuel, 3 percent is used in asphalt, 1 percent goes into lubricants, and finally — the remaining 15 percent forms the “bottom of the barrel” products. It is these “bottom of the barrel” products that are intriguing and share a ubiquitous nature similar to textile applications.

For years, the textile industry has been trying to highlight the breadth of textile applications associated with everyday life to highlight an industry beyond the obvious apparel sector. Whether it is home, automotive, filtration or medical, textiles are used everywhere in daily life.

A quick look at the “bottom of the barrel” products tells a similar tale. Take for instance everyday modern aspirin. PSC noted: “Benzene is one of the most widely used chemicals in the U.S. today. It is used predominately as a starting material in making other chemicals — including aspirin and other drugs. One way benzene is obtained is by distillation-refining petroleum.”

And the list goes on — food coloring, lipstick, synthetic rubber, styrofoam, toothbrushes, and even the thicker inks used in printing money use oils and extenders in the process.

And let’s not forget textiles themselves. Polyester fabrics are almost 100-percent petroleum based, and even bottle-based recycled polyester owes its root feed stocks to the 42-gallon barrel.

There is a lot of work that needs to go in to replacing the barrel — think new sunglasses, kayaks, mattresses, hair color, fishing rods, dog collars, hard hats, lotions, drums, artificial heart valves, artificial turf and porta-potties. These are just some of the items highlighted in PSC’s “Petroleum Product of the Week.”

Moving away from oil as fuel is one thing, but keep in mind the unintended (or intended) consequences.

March/April 2022