As the price of crude oil is poised to go over one hundred dollars per barrel the news people keep showing pictures of modern 55 gallon drums to represent barrels of oil. This drives me crazy and it also distorts the true picture. Most people, including the news people (apparently), are not aware that a standard barrel of crude oil contains only 42 gallons and it has been that way ever since 1866. At one hundred dollars per barrel, a single gallon of raw crude oil costs $2.38 per gallon. If there were 55 gallons in a standard barrel of crude oil the raw crude would only cost $1.89 per barrel. To make things even worse, out of each barrel of crude oil we only get about 18 gallons of gasoline which is 43% of the total volume. The other 57% is divided among various distillates, residuals, jet fuel, feed stocks, still gas (whatever that is), asphalt, petroleum coke, LPG, kerosene, various lubricants, and some miscellaneous garbage. Even after selling all the byproducts to various customers the actual refinery gets to keep very little of that one hundred dollars.
Now, if you think about all of the energy that it takes to find the crude oil, pump the crude oil out of the ground, transport the crude oil, refine the crude oil, transport the gasoline, and pump it into your car, it is a wonder that there is anything left but fumes. Nobody transports oil in barrels anymore either. It would be better to talk about oil in cubic meters because that is how it is measured and shipped in tankers and pipelines. Once we start matching apples to apples and crude oil to the proper measuring standard we will have a much better picture of how precarious our energy situation really is. The next time you see a news story about oil prices and they show you a stack of 55 gallon drums you will now realize by how much you are being short changed. This is your wake-up call.