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Petroleum or crude oil naturally occurring oily bituminous liquid composed of various organic chemicals It is found in large quantities below the surface of the earth and is used as a fuel and as a raw material in the chemical industry Modern industrial societies use it primarily to achieve a degree of mobilityon land at sea and in the airthat was barely imaginable less than a hundred years ago In addition petroleum and its derivatives are used in the manufacture of medicines and fertilizers foodstuffs plastic ware building materials paints and cloth and to generate electricity In fact modern industrial civilization depends on petroleum and its products the physical structure and way of life of the suburban communities that surround the great cities are the result of an ample and inexpensive supply of petroleum In addition the goals of developing countriesto exploit their natural resources and to supply foodstuffs for the burgeoning populationsare based on the assumption of petroleum availability In recent years however the worldwide availability of petroleum has steadily declined and its relative cost has increased Petroleum will probably no longer be a common commercial material by the mid-21st century See Energy Supply World Characteristics The chemical composition of all petroleum is principally hydrocarbons although a few sulfur-containing and oxygen-containing compounds are usually present the sulfur content varies from about 01 to 5 percent Petroleum contains gaseous liquid and solid elements The consistency of petroleum varies from liquid as thin as gasoline to liquid so thick that it will barely pour Small quantities of gaseous compounds are usually dissolved in the liquid when larger quantities of these compounds are present the petroleum deposit is associated with a deposit of natural gas see Gases Fuel Three broad classes of crude petroleum exist the paraffin types the asphaltic types and the mixed-base types The paraffin types are composed of molecules in which the number of hydrogen atoms is always two more than twice the
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