Everyone knows that fuel makes the world go round. Some of the most common types of fuels include gasoline, diesel fuel, ethanol, and bio-diesel. How we use fuel, where it comes from, and how each type of fuel differs from others can be challenging to understand.
One name that comes up often is petroleum. Although a petroleum-free revolution is constantly trumpeted as a utopian ideal, it’s important to understand what it would really look like and how it would affect our daily lives.
What Is Petroleum?
Petroleum can exist in a solid and gaseous state. Technically speaking, the term includes substances like bitumen and natural gas. However, in most cases, when the word petroleum comes up, it refers to liquid crude oil.
Petroleum is an abundant resource beneath the surface. People use petroleum equipment to harvest it in bulk around the globe in key areas like the Middle East, Venezuela, Canada, the U.S., West Africa, and Russia.
How Does the World Use Petroleum?
Petroleum is a primary ingredient for many plastics, chemicals, and synthetic materials, which means it is in various products and materials in everyday life. Most people first think of white petroleum jelly, but it also includes:
- Road oil
- Clothing (acrylic, polyester, etc.)
- Construction materials
- Household appliances
- Furnishings and decor
- Healthcare and medical products (anesthetics, petroleum gauze, etc.)
Of course, petroleum’s most famous use is as a fuel. When refined, it creates gasoline. However, it can also double as a fuel oil for homes. In fact, of the 7.2 billion barrels of petroleum used by Americans in 2021, 71% was used for either motor gasoline, heating oil, diesel fuel, or jet fuel. In Canada, 65% of petroleum went to gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel alone.
What Would a World Without Petroleum Look Like?
A world that doesn’t use petroleum would require replacing the production of many products and resources. As a result, common products would become harder to manufacture and more expensive to purchase. It would also significantly affect the supply chain as some items became limited in quantity.
A lack of petroleum would trigger global consequences with transportation, specifically with rail freight and aviation. This would quickly lead to complications with global trade.
Access to food would also become more challenging. Farmers’ tractors and equipment use fuel to operate, which is also used for artificial fertilizer production. The use of fishing boats would also be halted, limiting our access to food from the sea.
If we transitioned to driving electric cars, it would lead to taxed electric grids that frequently lead to power outages, something already occurring throughout the U.S. It could also limit our ability to transport goods and travel each day as restrictions on charging vehicles are put into place.
Fortunately, there are other ways to manage our petroleum usage in the short term. For instance, more efficient furnaces and car engines help reduce waste. Another way to increase efficiency is by utilizing every aspect of petroleum. A good example of this is propane. Companies like Paraco Gas help distribute the recycled byproduct of gasoline, creating a cost-effective, low-emissions alternative to traditional home heating oil.
Petroleum’s Changing Role
Moving toward a petroleum-free world — especially at the blistering rate some are proposing — may sound good in theory. But it would disrupt every area of our lives and significantly affect the cost of living.
Instead, it’s important to remain efficient in our use of petroleum as it helps us continue remaining productive in our daily lives due to its versatility and overall quality. Knowing more about its value and what it contributes to our infrastructure helps bring more awareness that it’s not easy to replace.