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Petroleum, named for "rock oil", is a fossil fuel usually found deep within the earth, although some deposits are very close to the surface.

It is a heavy dark liquid, consisting of many different hydrocarbon compounds. Crude oil is extracted from the ground and fractionated into its components by volatility in an oil refinery. Some of the main products distilled from crude oil are:

The following table[1] compares the qualities of various types of petroleum:

Fraction API gravity Viscosity
Gasoline 60 6
Kerosene 50 20
Diesel 45 100
Lubricating oil 30 500
Residuum 10 >105

Oil deposits are often found in concurrence with natural gas in a variety of geological structural or stratigraphic traps.

Geologists have deduced that petroleum is the remains of huge amounts of algal material that was laid down millions of years ago, and altered in form under high temperatures and pressures. Layers of buried plant material tend to produce coal or lignite.

A minority belief is that petroleum is synthesized naturally by unspecified underground processes, slowly rising towards the surface for our use.
  1. Stainforth, J., Nourse, R. & Nosiara, M., 2007, Basin Oriented Geology - Petroleum Systems Module Course Manual.