Consumers are often familiar with the gasoline and diesel used in their own passenger vehicles, but where does that fuel come from? Most people are unaware that the gas in their car comes from the same barrel of oil – the world’s most valuable fossil fuel – that makes the asphalt we walk on or jet fuel.
Slight changes to one fuel type can result in price changes in others that ultimately increase their operating costs. This makes the relationship between the oil and gas industries highly intertwined. That is why it is important for large consumers of fuel—like shippers and carriers—to pay attention to changes in any single refined products market.
How Much Oil is In a Barrel of Crude Oil?
So, how many gallons in a barrel of oil? A standard 42-gallon crude oil barrel contains approximately 45 gallons of salable refined crude oil products per barrel.
Prices of crude oil are measured in barrels, while production totals across all producing countries are measured in million barrels per day (mmbd). The average oil price was $57/barrel in 2019, but in the past decade have been as high as $110/barrel and as low as $30/barrel.
What Products Are Made From a Barrel of Crude Oil?
Depending on the refinery processing operations, we get many products from crude oil. The finished goods brought to market vary significantly in price, use cases, and demand. These products include:
- Ultra-Low Sulfur Diesel (ULSD/Heating Oil)
- Kerosene/Jet Fuel
- Hydrocarbon Gas Liquids
- Residual Fuel
- Many Other Products
Read below for an analysis that differentiates each product refined from a single barrel of crude oil.
Gasoline is one of the most important and most prevalent refined products derived from crude oils in the U.S. It accounts for 20 gallons of a 45-gallon barrel of refined fuels.
Gasoline is primarily used as fuel for standard passenger vehicles. It is often sent to fuel blending terminals where blending agents are added to stay compliant with ethanol requirements. Additionally, “brand-related additives,” such as those within Shell V-Power®NiTRO+ Premium Gasoline may be added to differentiate from different providers.
Regular, Midgrade, and Premium – also referred to as unleaded, super, or super-premium – are the different grades of gasoline sold by retailers. Differing grades have a wide array of uses. This differentiation is the main reason oil refineries are not typically responsible for producing consumer-ready products.
ULTRA-LOW SULFUR DIESEL (ULSD)/HEATING OIL
Since the application of advanced emission control technologies by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2006, refineries are required to convert to ULSD production. Ultra-low-sulfur diesel, such as diesel fuel used by the U.S. trucking industry, accounts for the overwhelming majority of U.S. diesel products.
Ultra-low-sulfur diesel makes up the second-largest portion of a refined product barrel, equating to roughly 11 gallons of the finished product. Various states regulate the percent of biodiesel required by both highway and off-road users, which ULSD is also eligible for blending use.
Heating oil is chemically identical to ultra-low sulfur diesel and can be used in furnaces or boilers in buildings. This is particularly the case in the Northeast region of the United States. Due to the comparable composition of ULSD and heating oil, the two products are often priced interchangeably. Regional price dynamics often create significant commodity price variance by geography relative to baseline heating oil.
The key differentiator in selling price is taxation, as road diesel is subject to fuel taxes further down the product supply chain. Together, ULSD and heating oil make up 12 gallons of a refined barrel.
Kerosene is a light petroleum distillate commonly used as fuel in heaters, lamps, cooking stoves, and water heaters. Multiple grades of kerosene exist, though specifications vary depending on means of utilization.
Kerosene-type jet fuel is created via similar refining techniques, though distinct specifications through aircraft configuration differentiate generic kerosene from jet fuel. Kerosene-type jet fuel has both commercial and military use for jet and aircraft engines. Kerosene and kerosene-type jet fuel account for roughly 4 gallons of a standard barrel from crude oil in the U.S.
HYDROCARBON GAS LIQUIDS
A typical barrel of refined products in the US consists of approximately 2 gallons of hydrocarbon gas liquids (HGL). Hydrocarbon gas liquids are chemically grouped into alkanes or alkenes depending on carbon content, temperature, and the pressure at which each HGL converts to a liquid or gas.
Under atmospheric pressure, HGL occurs as gas, while higher pressures result in HGL in liquid form. Alkanes include ethane, propane, butane, and natural gas. Ethylene, propylene, and butylene fulfill the alkene category.
In short, hydrocarbon gas liquids are used as feedstock to make various chemicals, plastic products, and synthetic rubber. HGLs are also used as fuels for heating, cooking, transportation, additives for gasoline, and blending agents for crude oil products.
Residual fuel is a more general classification for fuel oils that ultimately remain after distillates and lighter HGL has refined away during the refining process. Residual fuels are segmented into two key categories, Number 5 and Number 6.
Number 5 residuals are used in powerplants and steam-powered vessels. Number 6 residuals are used for electric power generation, space heating, and ocean vessels as bunker fuel. Production of residual fuels makes up one of the smallest portions of a barrel of refined products in the United States, accounting for just 1 gallon of refined output.
Read more about how residual fuel prices are being affected by the current marine shipping regulatory landscape here.
Petroleum coke, still gas, asphalt, naphtha, lubricants, waxes, and other miscellaneous refined products fall into this category. Though the number of products in this category are marginal, the quality and breadth of these goods are instrumental across various industries with numerous uses.
Six gallons of refined products make up this section of a barrel. But it is important to note the products in this category are regularly dependent on the production of other products within this classification.
The pie chart at left shows the full breakdown of a typical barrel of refined products produced by U.S. refiners.
Price dynamics of petroleum products can change based on geography, market fundamentals, industry tendencies, and behind-the-scenes refining complexities.
Interested in more fundamentals for crude oil products? Read about what shifts the output balance of refined products here. You can also move back through the value chain and read Crude Oil 101 and Oil In Motion – Crude Oil Transportation.