Because of the subterranean origin of petroleum it must be extracted by means of wells. Until an exploratory well, or wildcat, has been dug, there is no sure way of knowing whether or not petroleum lies under a particular site. In order to reduce the number of exploratory wells drilled, scientific methods are used to pick the most promising sites. Sensitive instruments, such as the gravimeter, the magnetometer, and the seismograph, may be used to find subsurface rock formations that can hold crude oil. Drilling is a fairly complex and often risky process. Some wells must be dug several miles deep before petroleum deposits are reached. Many are now drilled offshore from platforms standing in the ocean bed. Usually the petroleum from a new well will come to the surface under its own pressure. Later the crude oil must be pumped out or forced to the surface by injecting water, air, natural gas, steam, carbon dioxide, or another substance into the deposits. Enhanced recovery techniques have increased the percentage of oil that can be extracted from a field.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.