Red Butte Creek Oil Spill.

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DEQ Home > Locations > Red Butte Creek Oil Spill > FAQs > Crude Oil 

Red Butte Creek Oil Spill: Frequently Asked Questions


What is Crude Oil?

Crude oil is a dark yellow-to-black oily liquid that is usually found in natural underground reservoirs. It was formed when the remains of animals and plants from millions of years ago were covered by layers of sand. Heat and pressure from these layers turned the remains into crude oil. Crude oil is extracted and used to make fuel and other petroleum products.

Crude oil is a mixture of a wide variety of constituents. It consists primarily of hydrocarbons, which are chemicals composed of hydrogen and carbon. Crude oil also contains hundreds of substances that include benzene, chromium, iron, mercury, nickel, nitrogen, oxygen, sulfur, toluene, and xylenes.

The exact composition of the oil spilled into Red Butte Creek in June, 2010 is unknown. However, based on the available data for oil from the Rangley, Colorado and Myton, Utah well field, the oil was most similar to a Class C. Class C: Heavy, Sticky Oils: These oils are brown or black and sticky or tarry, and include most crude oils. Their toxicity is low, but if spilled, their impacts on waterfowl and wildlife can be severe.

Analytical tests for crude oil are general or chemical-specific. The general tests quantify the several hundred chemical compounds that originally come from crude oil and report a single number that is useful to determine if oil contamination is present. These methods include total petroleum hydrocarbons (TPH), total recoverable petroleum hydrocarbons (TRPH), diesel range organics (DRO), and oil range organics. These tests are not chemical-specific and are primarily used to define the presence or absence of crude oil. The tests have limited usefulness for evaluating long term health effects of oil exposures.

Other analytical tests target specific chemicals found in crude oil. These tests are the most useful for identifying the potential toxic effects from crude oil. Crude oil is refined to produce gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, residential fuel oil, kerosene, liquefied petroleum gases such as propane and other sources of energy to produce heat or electric power. It is also used to make lubricants, waxes, ink, crayons, eyeglasses, tires, CDs and DVDs, ammonia, dishwashing liquid, and some health and personal care products. The United States is the third top crude oil-producing country, after Russia and Saudi Arabia.