Hi! My name is Crudey. I’m a drop of Heavy Oil! People used to call me a problem, a disappointment, they even called me crude. But now with all the people helping me, and the Upgrader where I can go to learn to be "refined", my friends say I'm very important. I am the answer to the energy and petro-chemical needs of the 21st Century. I'm proud to be Heavy Oil! What is Heavy Oil you ask? Well, the answer to that is an interesting story, my life story in fact.
Being heavy causes me a lot of problems and causes even more problems for all the people that want to make use of me. Sometimes I wish I wasn’t so heavy but, you know, everyone is special in some way and being heavy is one of the things that makes me special. Being heavy is in my genes … well, my molecules actually. You see, I’m part of the HYDROCARBON family. Yes, my parents are hydrogen and carbon. Now, just like humans, the children of a set of parents aren’t all alike. In my family the children are know as paraffins, naphthenes, aromatics, and me … I’m an asphaltic.
One of the things that makes me heavy, and different than my brothers and sisters, is the number of carbon atoms in my molecules. My cousin, natural gas, has only 4 carbon atoms in her molecules. She’s as light as air. My brother, paraffin, has long stringy molecules. If they get too long (like over 18 carbons), and he gets cool, he is very slow moving, just like me. My sister, naphthene, has saturated single bonds between her carbon atoms which gives her a bit of a weight problem too but my other sister, aromatic, is the most popular member of our family. Everyone likes her best. She doesn’t even smell like crude oil but instead has kind of a fruity odour.
Then, there’s me. I’m the blackest one in our family. That’s why heavy crude used to be called - black oil. I have a high boiling point and a high molecular weight. I’m afraid to admit it but I’ve over 60 carbon atoms in my molecules. People in the petroleum business used to not like me. They were disappointed if I was a big part of the crude oil they discovered. They hoped that there would be more of my brother and sisters in the crude oil. Sometimes, they even threw me away or just dumped me on the road.
Before I tell you how things began to perk up for me, I should tell you that now they actually weigh us. Drops of crude oil are measured on a density scale referred to as American Petroleum Institute gravity ( API gravity, for short). There is a formula:
141.5 divided by my specific gravity at 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15.56 Celsius) minus 131.5. The neat thing about this formula is that the heavier you are, the lower the number of your API gravity. For example, my sister, aromatic crude oil has an API of 45 degrees. Heavy Oil is officially crude oil with an API gravity below 20 degrees. Don’t tell anyone but your friend Crudey’s API gravity is 11 degrees. Oh my, I’m one of the heaviest oils that is not just a tar sand.
Another problem we drops of crude oil have is "impurities". These things make us toxic and less popular. An impurity is usually a free radical that attaches to our large hydrocarbon molecules. The most common "impurity" is sulphur. Sulphur is very corrosive and makes refining difficult, therefore crude oil that contains sulphur has a lower price than crude relatively free of sulphur.
Sulphur is a danger in the drilling, transporting and refining processes. In one of its gaseous forms, hydrogen sulphide, it is a deadly gas which can kill a person in as little as 10 seconds. I’ll tell you more about impurities and how to get rid of them when I tell you about my refinement.
Now I want to go way, way back in time and tell you about how I got started. It was once upon a time, in the days even before the dinosaurs …