Oil and natural gas began as microscopic plants and animals living in the ocean millions of years ago. These organisms obtained energy from the sun and stored it as carbon molecules in their bodies. When the organisms died, they sank to the bottom of the ocean. Over the course of millions of years, layers of sediment, as well as other plants and bacteria, were formed.
Heat and pressure then began to rise out of this. The amount of heat and pressure determined if the material would turn into oil or natural gas. High heat produced lighter oil; even higher heat produced natural gas. Once this was formed, the oil and natural gas came through tiny pores in the rock that surrounded it. Some got all the way to the surface and escaped, while other oil and natural gas deposits got trapped under impermeable rock and clay. The trapped deposits are where oil and natural gas is found today.
Oil and gas source rocks also form in non-marine environments; lakes have produced some of the richest source rocks known, though generally they are of smaller scope than marine deposits. Animals have virtually nothing to do with the organic matter that produces oil and gas – virtually all of it comes from plants.
Each step in the process takes millions of years – accumulation of organic-rich sediments; burial of sediments; maturation of hydrocarbons; development of strata to serve as seals and reservoirs; development of traps; and migration of oil or gas into the reservoirs.
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