Oil and Gas 101: What’s in a barrel of oil?

Crude oil is just one product that CEPA members transport everyday and it might surprise you to learn what’s in a barrel of oil.

A barrel of oil is the equivalent of 159 litres (42 gallons) of liquid. Some of the oil in a barrel becomes products that take us to where we want to go, like gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. But there’s way more than transportation fuel coming out of every barrel of oil. You might be surprised to learn that crude oil is used to make many everyday products, such as lipstick, guitar strings, toothbrushes, toothpaste, phones, sports clothing, dust pans, crayons, hand cream, and hundreds more.

Curious about what else comes out of a barrel of oil? Let’s explore.


Illustration of the contents of a Barrel of Oil


A quick refresher: What is crude oil?


Crude oil comes from plant or animal fossils that have been compressed and slowly heated over millions of years. Canada has the world’s third largest proven oil reserves, after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.

Crude oil deposits are found all over the world, but its characteristics, including colour, are determined by the location from where the crude oil is extracted. Although there are several grades and varieties of crude oil, the industry uses three important characteristics for classification:

  1. Density (heavy crude versus light crude).
  2. Viscosity (the degree to which the crude oil resists flow).
  3. Sulphur content (sweet crude is low in sulphur and sour crude is high in sulphur).


Crude oil is measured by the barrel (BBL) and volumes are stated as ‘barrels per day’, often abbreviated as BBL/D or BPD.


Some products that come from just one barrel of crude oil


  • Enough gasoline to drive a medium-sized car over 450 kilometres (280 miles).
  • Nearly 70 kilowatt hours of electricity at a power plant generated by residual fuel.
  • About 1.8 kilograms (4 pounds) of charcoal briquettes for a BBQ.
  • Enough propane to fill 12 small (14.1 ounce) cylinders for home, camping or workshop use.
  • Asphalt to make about 3.8 litres (one gallon) of tar for patching roofs or streets.
  • Lubricants to make about a 0.95 litre (one quart) of motor oil.

Plus, a whole host of other everyday products, including…

  • Wax for 170 birthday candles or 27 wax crayons.
  • 39 polyester shirts.
  • 640 toothbrushes.
  • 65 plastic dust pans.


Canada’s oil transmission pipelines have a target of zero incidents


Canadians rely on crude oil as a vital part of everyday life. In Canada, those oil products are primarily transported by transmission pipelines, and more recently by rail or truck due to a shortage of pipeline space. In 2018, CEPA’s members safely delivered 1.6 billion barrels of crude oil produced in Canada. But that’s not all. With a target of zero incidents, our members are relentless in their quest to improve the industry’s safety record. And oil producers are continuously focused on producing products in a manner that respects and protects the environment and the communities they touch.

Learn more about everyday products that are made from crude oil.