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Energy Institute - Education Glossary
Category: Earth and Environment
Date & country: 15/12/2007, UK
Words: 82


Acid rain
rain with a pH of around 4, in which pollutants such as sulphur dioxide have been dissolved.

Agrochemicals
chemicals used in agriculture and horticulture, such as fertilisers and pesticides.

Alkanes
hydrocarbon molecules with the general formula C H + 2, containing only single bonds.

Alkenes
hydrocarbon molecules with the general formula C H which contain one or more double bonds.

Anaerobic bacteria
bacteria which can live without oxygen.

Articulated loading column
is where tankers load a cargo of oil at sea. A tanker cannot manoeuvre close to a production platform so the oil is piped to a loading column. In the example illustrated below, this is 2 km from the production platform.

Barrel
a term used in the oil industry as a measure of volume. The 'American Barrel' is 35 gallons or 159 litres and is a standard unit of measurement for oil in bulk, used throughout the world.

Biodegradable
a material which can be broken down by enzymes.

Bitumen
a viscous material remaining after the volatile fractions of crude oil have been separated by distillation.

Bubble caps
a covered hole in a tray of fractionating column through which vapour bubbles upwards through the liquid in the tray.

Butane
the saturated hydrocarbon (alkane) with four carbon atoms in its molecule (C4H10). A gas at atmospheric pressure and normal temperature but easily liquefied by pressure. See 'Alkanes'.

Cap rock
an impervious layer of rock which traps oil or gas beneath it.

Catalyst
a substance which alters the rate of a chemical reaction without being used up itself in the reaction.

Catalytic reforming
changing the shape of the hydrocarbon molecules using a catalyst to speed up the rate of reaction.

CFCs
Chlorofluocarbons

Chemical feedstock
a chemical which is used as the starting point for manufacturing other substances eg ethene is used in the manufacture of polythene.

Crude oil
oil which has not undergone any refining. Crude oil is a mixture of hydrocarbons with small quantities of other chemicals such as sulphur, nitrogen and oxygen.

Cubic metre
one cubic metre is equal to 1000 litres.

Diesel
a light oil fuel used in diesel engines.

Directional drilling
a technique whereby a well is deliberately deviated from the vertical in order to reach a particular part of a reservoir. Using this method many wells may be drilled from one point. An illustration of the area that can be reached by directional drilling from one point

Distillates
the products obtained by condensation during the fractional distillation process.

Drill bit
a drilling tool that cuts through rock. This is made of hardened steel and may be coated with diamonds.

Drilling platform
an offshore structure from which wells are drilled. These are anchored to the sea floor and may be either a jack-up rig (resting on legs), a floating semi-submersible rig or (in very deep water) a ship.

Drilling rig
the complete structure and machinery needed to drill a well . (open in new window)

Ethane
the saturated hydrocarbon (alkane) with two carbon atoms in its molecule (C2H6). A gas under normal conditions. See 'Alkanes'.

Exploration
the search for oil and gas by carrying out geological and geophysical surveys, followed by exploratory drilling in the most promising locations.

Fault
a fracture in rocks with movement of the rock layers on either side. Faulting is caused by movement in the Earth's crust that creates stress and tension. The photograph below shows layers of rock that have been offset along a fault.

Fault trap
where a layer of oil or gas bearing rock is faulted and brought against an impervious layer which prevents the oil and gas from moving upwards.

Feedstock
a raw material for the manufacturing process.

Field
a geographical area under which an oil or gas reservoir lies and where a group of oil or gas wells is found.

Fossil fuel
the organic remains of plants, animals and bacteria which decayed and over millions of years formed crude oil, natural gas and coal.

Fractional distillation
a separation process which uses the difference in boiling points of liquids. (open in new window)

Fuel oil
a heavy distillate oil used for power stations, industry and ships' boilers.

Gas oil
a medium distillate oil used to produce diesel fuel and to burn in central heating systems.

Gas processing plant
where water and liquid hydrocarbons are removed from gas and its characteristic smell is added. Gas is brought ashore by pipeline and processing plants are located on the coast.

Gasoline
is the term used in the oil industry to refer to petrol.

Geologist
a scientist who studies the Earth, particularly rocks.

Geophysicist
a scientist who studies the physics of the Earth.

Global warming
the increase in the average temperature of the Earths atmosphere due to the enhanced greenhouse effect.

Greenhouse effect
describes the warming of the atmosphere due to greenhouse gases which prevent long wavelength infra-red radiation from escaping into space. (open in new window)

Hydrocarbon
compounds containing hydrogen and carbon only. They may exist as solids, liquids or gases.

Infra-red radiation
part of the electromagnetic spectrum responsible for radiant heat.

Kerosene
a medium light oil used for lighting, heating and aircraft fuel.

Limestone
a mineral made of calcium carbonate (CaCO3)

Loading buoy
is where tankers load a cargo of oil at sea. Tankers cannot manoeuvre close to a production platform so the oil is piped to a loading buoy, and articulated loading column or a floating storage unit (converted tanker) a few kilometres away. Tankers are used to transport oil when it is not economical to build a pipeline.

Lubricant
a substance based on heavy liquid hydrocarbons used to reduce friction in an engine or machine.

Methane
the hydrocarbon with the lightest molecule (CH4), a gas under normal conditions. See 'Alkanes'.

Metric tonne
one metric tonne is equal to 1000 kilogrammes.

Mineralogy
the scientifc study of minerals.

Multinational company
a company with operations and investments in many countries around the world. Also known as multinational companies.

Naptha
very light fractions of oil, used to produce petrol and as raw material for the petrochemical industry (e.g. to make plastics).

Natural gas
naturlaly occurring gases found whether alone or together with oil in underground reservoirs. The main component is methane.

Non-renewable resource
a resource which cannot be replaced once it is used up, for example fossil fuels (oil, natural gas and coal).

Octane rating
a measure of the performance of a gasoline, in particular its 'anti-knock' properties.

Organic
originating from living organisms. Organic chemicals contain carbon, hydrogen and sometimes other elements.

Palaentology
the study of fossils.

Pentane
the saturated hydrocarbon with five carbon atoms in its molecule (C5H12), a liquid under normal conditions. See 'Alkanes'.

Petrochemicals
chemicals made from crude oil. Amost all plastics are based on chemicals from crude oil, e.g. polythene, polystyrene and PVC.

Petrol
the light fuel used in cars and motorcycles.

Platform
an offshore structure from which wells are drilled or oil is produced. Commonly known as oil rigs, these may be either drilling platforms or production platforms (see below).

Possible reserves
oil and gas reserves which have a chance of being developed.

Primary energy
refers to the basic forms of fuel and energy. These are the commercially traded forms of energy such as coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear energy and hydroelectricity.

Probable reserves
undeveloped oil and gas reserves from tested formations, but for which there is a lack of information.

Production platform
an offshore platform fixed to the seabed from which wells are drilled and that carries the processing plant needed to maintain an oil or gas field in production. The diagram shows the size of these platforms compared to well known buildings.

Propane
the saturated hydrocarbon with three carbon atoms in its molecule (C3H8), a gas under normal conditions. See 'Alkanes'.

Proven reserves
reserves which are technically and economically feasible.

Refinery
a plant where the components of crude oil are separated and converted into useful products. These are usually on the coast so that tankers can unload crude oil directly into the refinery.

Reserve
amount of crude oil or natural gas to be recovered from a reservoir.

Reservoir
an accumulation of oil or gas in rock.

Salt dome
a mass of salt that has risen up under overlying formations, causing them to bulge upwards and form an anticline.

Sandstone
a rock formed from sand or quartz particles cemented together with clay, calcium carbonate and iron oxide.

Sediment
a layer of solid material which settles to the bottom of a liquid.

Sedimentary rock
rocks formed from the sediments collected in ancient oceans and seas, e.g. sandstone (illustrated below), limestone and chalk. Sedimentary rocks can be changed by heat and pressure into metamorphic rocks.

Seismic survey
a survey to determine the detailed structure of rocks underlying a particular area by passing acoustic shock waves into the rock strata and detecting and measuring the reflected signals.

Seismic wave
a shock wave usually generated by an earthquake. In oil exploration seismic waves are generated by detonating small explosions on the ground surface or on the sea. These are reflected by the various layers of rock beneath the ground and measured at the surface. Computer analysis enables a cross-section of the rock layers to be constructed thus revealing rock structures. The diagram below shows wells drilled into oil and gas reservoirs beneath the North Sea.

Seismograph
an instrument that records the frequency and magnitude of seismic waves. The vibrations are recorded by a pen on a revolving drum. A seismography can pick up seismic activity thousands of kilometres away.

Strata
layers of rock laid down on top of one another. See 'Sedimentary rock'.

Thermal cracking
splitting long chain hydrocarbons into shorter ones by heating.

Transnational company (TNC)
a company with operations and investments in many countries around the world. Also know as multinational companies.

Volatile
refers to a liquid that changes to a gas at temperatures close to room temperature.

Wavelength
the distance between one point on a wave and the same point on the next wave.

Well
a hole drilled into rock by a drill bit.