I come from a State in Nigeria that is rich in oil. My Sate, Imo, is among the nine (9) oil producing States, located in the South Eastern Nigeria. Many times I have wondered what the world would be like without petroleum and its products. As a small child, I have seen Geologists and surveyors searched our small villages and other places for where crude oil could be trapped underground. After performing some specific measurements and taking samples, they drill to confirm that there is actually oil. In the early days, it was learnt that successfully hitting an oil field might have meant being showered by a gusher of mud and oil, with the consequent loss of the initial outpouring and the risk of explosion.
However, by means of measuring instruments and special valves, today’s drilling rigs prevent this from happening. Smaller and deeper drillings are also possible today. Eventually, the pressure that makes the oil and gas emerge decreases, and it must be maintained by the injection of water, chemicals, carbon dioxide, or other gases, such as nitrogen. Depending on the zone, oil can have different degrees of density. Naturally, light oil is by far preferred, for it is easier to obtain and refine. Modern technology includes horizontal drilling, done virtually parallel to the earth’s crust, which reduces the number of wells that must be bored. Offshore extraction, which began in 1947 in the Gulf of Mexico, greatly increased oil production. Of course, the extraction method used has a direct effect on the price of the final product.
In the early days, small-diameter wooden pipelines were built for transporting oil, as they were cheaper and less cumbersome than conveying them in cans/barrels. Today’s pipeline systems have evolved and multiplied. Mainly made of metal, they help to transport not only the crude oil to refineries but also final oil products to distributors. As useful as it is, a pipeline system is not practical for the transportation of large quantities of oil overseas. There are oil tankers and specially designed ships as much as 400 meters long. Barges and railcars are also common means of bulk oil transportation.
Oil, popularly referred to as the ‘Black Gold,’ is very essential to industrialized nations and they depend on oil and its products for so many things. Just think of heating oil, greases, waxes, asphalts and the items made from petrochemicals – aircraft, automobiles, boats, adhesives, paint, polyester clothes, sneakers, toys, dyes, aspirin, deodorant, makeup, recording discs, computers, TVs, telephones. Every day many people use a number of the over 4,000 oil-derived products or items that shape modern life, but what about the harm to the fabric of life that has characterized the history of oil since its beginning?
Oil made from petroleum is used to lubricate motor vehicles, bicycles, strollers, and other things with moving parts. Oil lessens friction, thus slowing the breakdown of machine components. But that is not all. Oil is used to make fuel for planes, automobiles, and heating systems. A multitude of cosmetics, paints, inks, drugs, fertilizers, and plastics as well as a myriad of other items contain petroleum products. Daily life for many would be drastically different without oil. Petroleum and its derivatives have a greater variety of uses than perhaps any other substance in the world.
The Bible tells us that more than two millenniums before Christ, Noah, following divine instructions, constructed a gigantic vessel and used tar – possibly a petroleum substance – to make it watertight (Genesis 6:14). Petroleum substances were used by the Babylonians for their kiln-dried bricks, by the Egyptians in the mummification process, and by other ancient peoples for medicinal purposes. Who would have imagined that this product would come to be of such importance in today’s world? No one can deny that. The word “petroleum” comes from Latin and means “rock oil”. It is customarily used to identify two closely related compounds – natural gas, also known as methane, and oil. Both substances sometimes seep to the surface through cracks in the earth. As for oil, it can be liquid or in the form of asphalt, pitch, bitumen, or tar. Modern industrial civilization depends on petroleum.
The use of oil from petroleum for artificial lighting was oil’s springboard to fame. As early as the 15th century, oil from surface wells was used in lamps, there were shallow oil reservoirs where oil, in the form of kerosene, was used for lighting and by the mid-19th century, there had been a prosperous oil industry in Eastern Europe. In the United States, it was mainly the search for a high-quality illuminant in the 1800’s that made a group of men direct their efforts toward oil. These men rightly concluded that in order to produce enough kerosene to supply the market, they would have to drill for oil. So in 1859 an oil well was successfully drilled in Pennsylvania. The oil fever had begun.
There is now the big chase for oil, and before anything else could be done, people first and foremost calculate their financial gain because anything oil pays a better price. But, the world has not, and can never be ruled purely and exclusively on the principle of economics. Days are gone when people set up their business ventures for the purpose of serving the people. That is why today, every uncompleted space is now a petrol/gas filling station or one in the making. Every house is a warehouse for oil or oil products, every compound is a market. And children are trained in such money-stuffed environment and we all continue to go along with the mentality that money is everything and everything is money.
In many countries, the determination to control oil has been the cause of conflict and suffering. Oil has long graduated from being an ordinary product into a “strategic asset”, and as such has been used between nations for political leverage, through embargoes and sanctions. Today, oil wells, refineries, and tankers have been the target of terrorist attacks – often causing terrible damage to the environment. Because oil is till the king, and the creator of wealth, people take undue advantage of the situation to override or topple others.
No matter how essential oil is to modern life, it is still deeply rooted in the very heart of politics and the special interests of a few powerful people, who are always interested in creating artificial scarcity to enrich themselves. However, oil is not at the root of all these troubles, but man’s greed and thirst for power that has given oil its bad reputation. Happily, the future of oil and, indeed, of all sources of energy, is not in the hands of the nations, but in God, the Creator of the Earth, who has promised that soon every environmental and social problems related to the use and abuse of the earth’s resources will disappear (Revelation 4:11).