How Is Oil Made?

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 12263

Have you ever heard of a car being powered by dead animals? Eeeeew! Actually, the stuff that gasoline is made of is made of really old dead animals and plants! Learn how it's made and how it's found!


Earth Science

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

Lesson Plan - Get It!


What is the machine pictured above, that looks like a big metal dinosaur, used for?

In the previous lesson in this Crude Oil series, found under Related Lessons in the right-hand sidebar, you learned what oil is used for and where the major oil-producing countries are located.

Take a few minutes to review what you have learned by taking the following true-or-false quiz:

How did you do on the quiz? If you struggled to answer more than half the questions, you should go back and review the information from the previous lesson before moving forward with this lesson.

Now that you know why crude oil is so important, you will learn how it is formed and how humans get it.

Oil is considered a fossil fuel. Coal and natural gas are considered fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are formed by the remains of once-living organisms. As dead plants and animals dry out and decay, they turn into things such as oil, coal, and natural gas. Since living organisms must be dead for thousands of years to become fossil fuel, fossil fuels are buried deep below the surface of the Earth.

Oil is often located thousands of feet below the surface of the Earth. So, how is it brought to Earth’s surface where it can be used by humans?

First, geologists, or people who study the Earth, must find where oil reserves are located. Geologists use sound to locate oil reserves. Sound travels at different speeds through solids, liquids, and gases. Scientists create sounds and use machines to listen to how the sound is traveling through the Earth. They can tell whether oil, which is a liquid, is in a certain area of the Earth based on the sound they hear.

After geologists locate an oil reserve, engineers, or people who design and use machinery, use large drills to pump oil to the surface of the Earth. The drill consists of a large pipe that goes deep into the Earth. When the pipe is moved, it can pull the oil to the surface of the Earth. The amount of oil pulled per day depends on the type of drill being used, but most drills can pull thousands of pounds of oil from the Earth per day. The images below show examples of oil drills. The first drill is used on land. The second drill is a drill used at sea and is known as an offshore drill. Drilling for oil at sea presents some additional challenges because the drill must first extend the depth of the sea before entering the Earth’s surface.

Drilling for oil presents a few problems.

First, it can be harmful to the environment. Oil drills can break or leak, causing oil to spill over the land or into the sea. This not only damages soil and water, but is harmful to living organisms that call the region home. In 2007, the oil company, BP, had a major oil spill at sea. Around 134 million gallons of oil were spilled in the Gulf of Mexico. A recent study estimates the oil spill created $17.2 billion in damage to the environment by destroying beaches and coral reefs and killing animals and fish.

In addition to the hazards of drilling for oil, many scientists fear we are drilling too much oil too quickly. Oil is a nonrenewable resource. That means once it used, it cannot easily be reproduced. It takes thousands of years for new fossil fuels to form from the remains of dead plants and animals.

What do you think would happen if the world ran out of oil? Why is it important to find new forms of energy? Discuss your responses with your teacher or parent.

Then, move on to the Got It? section to take a closer look at the oil drills used at sea.

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.