Archive for December 2013

Thursday 05 December, 2013

Oil Processing

Industry“Drill baby drill,” one of the catchiest phrases to come out of the 2008 presidential election. No matter what your stance is on drilling, we all know our home heating oil originates from crude oil extracted from the earth. The final product however is far from the stuff first taken out of the ground; so how does it get that way? What processes does it go through from the ground in order to reach your home? Here is a quick look at what happens to your heating oil before it ready to distribute around the country.

Once it has been extracted from the ground, crude oil is sent to a petroleum refinery. These refineries are expansive campuses filled with an assortment of various processing units and other buildings such as storage tanks. It is impossible to pinpoint the exact processes that result in crude oil morphing to heating oil as all refineries operate a little differently, but there is still a general recipe each follows. Incredibly, the average refinery produces anywhere from 800,000 to 900,00 barrels of refined crude oil a day!

The main processes to take place in most refineries is in the crude oil distillation unit (CDU).The first step within the CDU is fractional distillation which facilitates the breaking down of the crude into various components or fractions. This is done by submitting the oil to varying boiling temperature ranges which breaks the crude into different hydrocarbon chains. There are four types of distillates produced that fall into four different categories: light distillates, middle distillates, heavy distillates, and other. Heating oil falls into the middle distillate category along with automotive, rail-road diesel, and other light fuels.

From here, the next step may possibly be chemical processing. This process takes some of the fractions and combines them with others. This is called conversion. The fractions then need to be treated to remove impurities. Achieved through a variety of processes beginning with a sulfuric acid treatment in a column, onto an absorption column to remove water, and completed with another sulfur treatment and scrubbers of hydrogen-sulfide to remove the leftover sulfur.  Finally, depending on the intended outcome, some fractions are again remixed to produce the final product.

So the next time you go to adjust your thermostat, take a quick second to think of all that needed to occur in order for the oil to be ready before it arrived to heat your home. It is truly amazing to think about!

 
 

Tuesday 03 December, 2013

Oil Production

oil rig with pipesI think if the typical American citizen was asked which country is responsible for producing the largest amount of oil in the world, the most typical answer would probably be somewhere from halfway around the world.  These folks might be surprised to find out that United States is in fact surpassing Russia and all middle eastern countries as the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas. In fact, the US is producing approximately 22 million barrels of oil every day to Russia’s 21.8 million.

As a result of its increased oil production, the US has cut natural gas imports by almost one-third and crude oil by fifteen percent, all within the last five years. If this trend continues it could mean a decrease or even the end of the US’s reliance on foreign oil. This would be the realization of a goal America has been working towards since the early 1970’s.

If this new reality seems surprising, it is. For two decades American oil production had been on a steady decrease. Where did this new surge of production come from? In one controversial word, fracking, formally known as hydraulic fracturing. Fracking is the process of pumping water and various chemicals into the ground in order to break up the shale rock and releasing any oil or gas trapped beneath. While hydraulic fracturing remains a hot topic across the country, there is no denying that it is a productive technique. It is being predicted that the US’s oil productivity will continue to increase and the cutting all foreign oil imports (other than from Canada) into the country may also become a reality by the end of the decade. This would mean immense economical and political gains for the US.

Although not widely publicized, Americans are actually already feeling the positive effects of the US production increase. Employment in the american oil industry has increased by forty percent over the last five years, adding over 160,000 jobs. In addition, the increase in production has helped to keep gas prices from increasing even more than they have over the past few years. International relations have also become more malleable with the US convincing Europe that sanctions against Iran would not increase worldwide oil prices or cause a shortage. These sanctions are one reason why Iran has been more open to talking about its nuclear program recently, hopefully making the world a safer place. With environmental concerns aside, the United States’ growing profile in the output of oil will mean great things for our country!

 
 

Tuesday 03 December, 2013

History of Home Heating

New Home Construction Framed with Wood StudsToday we are lucky enough to live in a world where we can control the temperatures in our homes with the click of a button or turn of a dial. I imagine most of us never stop to think of how people heated their homes even 100 years ago, it was certainly not that easy! With the cold weather letting us know it’s here to stay with this recent January like cold spell, lets take a look back to the origins of home heating.

There is evidence of central heating systems used as early as 100AD by the Roman Empire. It was actually an ingenious set-up for its time, using hot air to create underfloor heating. Fueled by wood, the system was both expensive to maintain and labor-intensive to run therefore it was limited to mainly upper class households. Other forms of central heating systems that have been seen throughout the years following the Romans vary from wood-fired furnaces in Spain (early 1200’s) to the Russian’s hydrological systems (1700’s) and finally the first steam-heating systems in England in the 1800’s. These lead to the modern American systems, which began with wood based systems.

Wood was the main source of home heating and remained so until 1885 when coal overtook wood for the first time. At the turn of the 20th century low cost cast iron radiators and riveted-steel coal furnaces were common in many homes across the country. These were kept in basements and since electricity was not yet available, homes were heated by natural convection otherwise known as the tried and true, warm air rises mantra. This process was facilitated through ducts that provided the warm air access from the furnace to the rooms above. Things began to change in the mid-1930’s with the forced air coal furnaces. Electricity had been incorporated into the design and electric fans were used to distribute the heated air.

It wasn’t long after that gas and oil were adopted as primary fuel sources and soon made coal heating and the need to “stoke the fire” a thing of the past. Today American homes are still primarily heating their homes from these sources. About 60% of homes are currently using gas and 10% use oil. It will be interesting to see where the world of home heating leads in the years and centuries to come, no doubt they will become more efficient and increasingly environmentally friendly.

 
 
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