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What is Light Sweet Crude Oil?

Updated on April 1, 2010
Photo Credit: "Oklahoma Offshore" by Free Wine,
Photo Credit: "Oklahoma Offshore" by Free Wine,

A Bibelot on Crude Oil

A bibelot is a small object of curiosity – in this case, information.

Light sweet crude oil is the form of petroleum that oil refineries prefer because it contains exceptionally high amounts of the chemicals needed to produce gasoline, kerosene, and high-quality crude oil. It is “light” because it has low density and flows at a temperature of 60 degrees.

Density is the heaviness of the oil and is generally measured by the American Petrochemical Institute (API) gravity. Typically, light crude has an API gravity greater than 10 and will float on water. (Heavier crude has an API gravity of less than 10 and sinks in water.)

“Sweet” is a description of how much sulphur is in the oil. In the 19th century, oil workers would taste and smell small amount of oil to determine its quality. Crude oil with low sulphur content had a mildly sweet taste and pleasant smell. Today, oil workers can measure the sulphur content of an oil sample and it is classified as sweet if it contains less than 0.5% sulphur.

Light sweet crude contains lower levels of other impurities such as wax. This allows it to flow at room temperature. The lack of impurities and the lower density of the oil mean that it is easier to get out of the ground, transport and refine than heavier crude oils. But because of its popularity it is more expensive to buy.

Light sweet crude oil is produced in many areas around the world. Most of it is found in the North Sea, Northern Europe, Norway and the United Kingdom. There are also deposits in the United States in the Appalachian Basin and in West Texas. Other countries that produce light sweet crude oil include Libya, Algeria, Nigeria, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, India, Vietnam, and Australia.

Human beings have been using light sweet crude oil for at least 4,000 years. Herodotus, an ancient Greek historian, reported that asphalt, which is extracted from crude oil, was used to build the walls of Babylon and it has been used throughout the world since that time. However, it wasn’t until the invention of the internal combustion engine, that the demand for light sweet crude oil exploded.

Light sweet crude oil is refined to make gasoline, kerosene, jet fuel, and heating oil. Because of the high demand for it around the world, the price of light sweet crude oil is very sensitive to economic changes. In 1946, unrefined light sweet crude oil sold for $1.69 per barrel, which would approximately $17.00 when adjusted for inflation. On March, 31, 2010, light sweet crude oil was selling for $83.36 per barrel. A barrel of oil contains 42 U.S. gallons.


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