There’s just something about petroleum, otherwise known as “crude oil” or simply just “oil”, that is easy to villainize. Maybe it’s oil’s association to the “greedy” industrialists of the 19th century like John D. Rockefeller, or the fact that oil is an essential ingredient to gasoline, the primary fuel for a carbon-emitting automobile industry that we are racing to electrify; maybe it’s because the control for oil has sparked wars between countries, or maybe it’s the appearance of oil itself — a thick, black, slimy substance that almost looks like it wants to take over your body and turn you into a Spiderman villain. Maybe it’s all the above.

Opinions aside, oil was the U.S.’ largest source of primary energy consumption in 2021, comprising over one-third of the 97.33 quadrillion Btus that the U.S. used in total that year. A British thermal unit (Btu) is a measure of heat content in a given energy source. It’s a way to compare the amount of energy that can be used across different fuels. To put this in perspective, one Btu is roughly the same amount of heat energy released when burning a match. Multiply this by 97,330,000,000,000,000, and you get the total energy consumed by the U.S. in 2021.

More than two-thirds of the U.S.’ petroleum use in 2021 went to the transportation sector, which shouldn’t be a surprise considering all the gasoline, kerosene (for airplanes), and diesel (for trucks) that gets used on a daily basis. Roughly most of the remaining petroleum goes to the industrial sector, where it gets refined and processed in the manufacturing of various everyday products such as vitamin capsules, shoes, trash bags, nail polish, footballs, and the list goes on. Most people would probably be surprised at just how many products are made with petroleum.

Regardless, the growing electrification of the transportation sector will impact oil for years to come. Many researchers are claiming demand for oil will peak in the next 5 to 10 years. Whatever the case, short-term demand for oil will likely continue to increase in the next few years given Europe’s energy crisis, spiking natural gas prices, and growth in developing economies.


IEA – Oil

EIA – U.S. energy facts explained

National Geographic – Petroleum

EIA – British thermal units (Btu)


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