What’s the Big Deal About Oil?

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 12262

In the news, you might read or hear the price of a barrel of oil for the day. Why not the price of eggs or pencils? Oil is very important for everybody. Examine its uses and consider life without it!


People and Their Environment

Social Studies
learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


What do you use to power a car and a lawnmower? Where does it come from? I mean, where does the gas station get it from?

car and lawn mower

Today, oil is one of the most valuable resources in the world.

Countries with access to oil are guaranteed wealth and power because other countries are willing to pay large sums of money for oil. It is so valuable that oil has even been given the nickname “black gold.” What do you think the nickname "black gold" means? Discuss your ideas with your teacher or parent.

In this lesson, you will learn how oil became a major world resource, what oil is used for, and where the top oil-producing countries are located.

Energy is power from a source that is used to make heat, operate machinery, and make things move. For centuries, people relied on wood for energy. Early humans would burn wood to create heat and, a few hundred years later, burning wood was used to power machines. Later, it was discovered coal could produce four times more energy than wood and was much cheaper to secure. Oil from whale blubber, or the fatty part of a whale, was also found to be a decent, cheap form of energy.

Using coal and whale oil to heat homes and power machinery soon became a problem. Burning coal created black smoke that polluted the air. The smoke could even create health problems if too much was inhaled. Securing oil from whale blubber required hunting and killing whales, which caused whales to become an endangered species.

The Industrial Revolution began in the 1800s. During the Industrial Revolution, hundreds of new inventions emerged that made life easier, but many of these inventions were powered by energy. People began leaving their farms to move to cities. Cities provided thousands of jobs in the form of factories. Factories were full of machines that created textiles, furniture, and all the necessities of life. As a result, people began searching for cheaper resources to power the machines in factories. Oil from the ground, also called petroleum or crude oil, was first discovered in the mid-1800s. In the United States, oil was first discovered in Pennsylvania in 1859. It soon became the method used for lighting homes, and was used to power the machines of the Industrial Revolution. Remember, electricity had not been developed yet, so people powered their homes and businesses with oil. Pipelines were laid across the country to transport oil from oil reserves, or places where oil was discovered, to major cities.

Oil became a major business in the United States overnight because everyone needed oil to light their homes and make their businesses function. People who owned oil companies, such as John D. Rockefeller, became some of the wealthiest individuals in the entire country. In 1901, the largest oil reserve in the United States was discovered in Texas. This caused the oil companies to become even more competitive with one another. In 1911, some of the oil companies even had to go to the Supreme Court because they were using unethical measures, such as bribing members of Congress and not paying their workers enough money, to try to get rid of all the other oil companies. The Supreme Court decided these practices were unlawful and restricted any measures taken by the oil companies to control the oil market. In 1917, the United States entered World War I, and oil became even more important because it was used to power military machines and weapons.

Today, oil is still used to power machines and factories, power military machines and weapons, and to heat some homes. It is also used to power almost all forms of transportation. It is used to make items you would probably never think of. Check out What Is Oil Used For? (ConocoPhillips Alaska) to see a complete list of things made from petroleum. After you have spent a few minutes reviewing the list with your teacher or parent, discuss the following questions:

  • What are three items that you are the most surprised to see on this list?
  • After reading this section and reviewing the list, why do you think oil is such an important world resource?
  • What impact does oil have on your daily life?

In the next lesson in this Crude Oil series, found under Related Lessons in the right-hand sidebar, you will learn more about how oil is formed below the surface of the Earth.

For now, move on to the Got It? section to see where you can find oil.

Elephango's Philosophy

We help prepare learners for a future that cannot yet be defined. They must be ready for change, willing to learn and able to think critically. Elephango is designed to create lifelong learners who are ready for that rapidly changing future.