How much oil is in a barrel?
September 1, 2005 9:31 AM   Subscribe

How many gallons of oil are in a barrel? Really, what I want to know: How many gallons of gasoline can be distilled from that barrel of oil?

With oil topping $70 a barrel, I figure I'll be paining around $4 a gallon at the pump this week - but I'm wondering about the economics of it. In my head I picture the kind of barrel that poor people where in cartoons, but it must be much much bigger given the prices.
posted by muddylemon to Work & Money (20 answers total)
Here is a Freakonomics entry on the topic today, giving you a pretty good look at its economics. To directly quote the answer from that page for your question, there are 'about 42 gallons in a barrel'.
posted by tuxster at 9:34 AM on September 1, 2005

Best answer: I just googled your main question and it looks like about 20 gallons of refined gasoline comes out of a 42 gallon crude oil barrel.
posted by mathowie at 9:35 AM on September 1, 2005

£3.60 ($6.60) a gallon in the UK, and you think that $4 is expensive.
posted by spooksie at 9:41 AM on September 1, 2005

keep in mind that gasoline is only one part of the refining process. There's a lot of stuff that comes out of crude oil that can also be sold, and that helps to offset the price of just the gas. The image of gas/oil companies can be for huge, wasteful entities, but they're corporations, and waste means lost profit. They've gotten refining down so that there's hardly any that goes to waste.
posted by devilsbrigade at 9:42 AM on September 1, 2005

I'm under the impression that gasoline prices in the US are relatively low (compared with, say, the UK) due in part to government subsidies. Is that true? It could certainly be a spoiler in the poster's napkin math if so.
posted by cortex at 9:45 AM on September 1, 2005

then why do they call it a "50 gallon drum?"
posted by crunchland at 9:50 AM on September 1, 2005

Response by poster: I just noticed my freudian slip in the question "paining" vs. "paying" - oy.
posted by muddylemon at 9:56 AM on September 1, 2005

It's more like the UK prices are artifically high due to punitive taxation. Tax there is around $3.50 / gallon. US total tax is around $0.38 / gallon. (These numbers do vary with the price a bit, because some of it is a percentage tax.)
posted by smackfu at 9:57 AM on September 1, 2005

Response by poster: Furthermore:
1. Sorry for not googling. Lazy day.
2. where vs. wear (homonyms will be the death of me)
3. previously noted "paining"

in conclusion: I need to go back to bed.
posted by muddylemon at 9:59 AM on September 1, 2005

Best answer: For the first: 42 gallons per barrel. Oil uses the old American standard barrel, which is based off of the 18th century English wine barrel. When Britain brought in the Imperial Barrel, 55 gal., in the early 19th century, America declined to switch. Since the majority of the oil development in the world was by US companies, the oil volume standard is the American one. Curiously, you almost never see 42 gallon barrels. The size most of us are familiar with is the 55 gallon Imperial size. There's a good article on this in Slate.

As for your second question: how much gas per barrel, Balisong asked the same question in the blue a few days ago. The short answer, somewhere between 2/3 and 1/3, by volume, depending mostly on the starting oil. Mexican Gulf crudes coming onshore in Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas tend to be light (low density, high API gravity, high thirties to forties is typical), and so can produce more gas. To compare, Californian crude oil is much heavier, typically has an API gravity of 10 or so, and requires much more processing to produce less gasoline.

The other factor is that gas, jet fuel, diesel and home heating fuel are all mostly mutually interconvertable. So, if demand for gas is high, home heating fuel will rise in price too, and vice versa. Expect gasoline prices to rise significantly over the winter months.
posted by bonehead at 10:04 AM on September 1, 2005

crunchland - most of my woodwork is with 1x4 planks and they're actually about .8 x 3.5. The world loves imprecision :)

smackfu is right but glosses over the fact that there's fed AND state tax AND sometimes city/county tax. The economics of gas pricing are complicated and fraught with all kinds of motivations. That article talks about the numerous things that impact gas prices, including corrupt state governments protecting campaign contributors from actual competition.
posted by phearlez at 10:19 AM on September 1, 2005

To expand upon bonehead's good answer just above, not only does the quantity of gasoline available from a barrel of oil differ depending on the grade of crude oil, but the "good" crude oil is already on the downslope of production. Light, sweet crude - the "best" oil - peaked production in 2000 and has declined every year since.

What this means is that every year from now on, the oil being pumped out of the ground is steadily decreasing in quality, on average. It's harder to refine, and the usable yield is less per gallon of crude. And total oil extraction, regardless of grade, will peak soon; perhaps 2005 will be the highest year, perhaps 2006, perhaps 2007, but not much longer than that.

In ten years, you're going to look at $4/gallon gas the same way you look at 5 cent hamburgers.
posted by jellicle at 10:54 AM on September 1, 2005

But we're also talking about a $5/barrel oil price increase leading to a $1+/gallon gas price increase. That's not rational.
posted by smackfu at 11:03 AM on September 1, 2005

No, it smacks of profiteering to me. You wouldn't expect a 20% increase in price for an 8% increase in supply price.
posted by bonehead at 11:40 AM on September 1, 2005

...and jellicle is right on by the way. We've got Alaksa North Slope, Prudhoe Bay and Gulf Coast oil samples going back 20 years or so. All have gotten heavier. The light oils coming out of the Gulf now are coming from the deepwater fields. The near-shore ones are producing significantly heavier oil now.
posted by bonehead at 11:44 AM on September 1, 2005

Re: "punitive taxation" in the UK (and elsewhere) - I'd argue that other countries (Canada, anyone?) are paying the "actual" price of gasoline at the pump; whereas in the US we pay a massively subsidized price at the pump - the subsidies come out of our pockets at tax time.
Vastly oversimplified, I know - but worth thinking about. We have no birthright to cheap oil.
posted by dbmcd at 1:21 PM on September 1, 2005

Here in India, I am paying Rs. 47 (approx $1.10) per litre of petrol. You Americans have it much cheaper compared to your wages.
posted by madman at 3:20 PM on September 1, 2005

"No, it smacks of profiteering to me. You wouldn't expect a 20% increase in price for an 8% increase in supply price."

Lots of middlemen will do that to ya.
posted by zoogleplex at 5:59 PM on September 1, 2005

One of the issues is refinery capacity, which at the moment and for the foreseeable few months is the supply bottleneck here in the U.S.

There's been a lot of lamentation about poor planning in not increasing refinery capacity, but this is a poorly constructed argument. The oil companies know what peak extraction is likely to be; they employ thousand-person geological thinktanks like Schlumberger with experts who spend their entire work days trying to figure these questions out. They have constructed exactly enough refinery capacity to meet peak extraction. More capacity would leave the oil companies stuck with extra, costly refineries that would lay idle when extraction began to decline.

The fact that Katrina knocked out 15% of refinery capacity, while unanticipated, still isn't an argument for building more refinery capacity. Those refineries will be brought back on line. And oil companies would prefer to leave competition at the consumer level; they're going to avoid competing for refinery input as long as they're able.

But it doesn't look like that'll be very much longer. Few more years, maximum.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:06 PM on September 1, 2005

Lots of middlemen will do that to ya.

Well, that and the oil companies doing everything they can to hold on to tens of billions of dollars in annual profits, no matter the international situation. Can't forget that part.
posted by Dreama at 8:08 PM on September 1, 2005

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