Gasoline is a volatile, flammable liquid obtained from the refinement of petroleum, or crude oil. It was originally discarded as a byproduct of kerosene production, but its ability to vaporize at low temperatures made it a useful fuel for many machines. The first oil well in the United States was struck by Edwin L. Drake near Titusville, Pennsylvania, in 1859 at a depth of almost 70 feet (21 m). With the development of the four-stroke internal combustion engine by Nikolaus Otto in 1876, gasoline became essential to the automotive industry. Today, almost all gasoline is used to fuel automobiles, with a very small percentage used to power agricultural equipment and aircraft. Petroleum, a fossil fuel, supplies more energy to the world today than any other source. The United States is the world's leading consumer of petroleum; in 1994, Americans used 7,587,000 barrels of oil per day. Petroleum is formed from the remains of plants and animals that have been held under tremendous pressure for millions of years. Ordinarily, this organic matter would decompose completely with the help of scavengers and aerobic bacteria, but petroleum is created in an anaerobic environment, without the presence of oxygen. Over half of the world's known crude oil is concentrated in the Persian Gulf basin. Other major areas include the coasts of Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico.
Petroleum products, including gasoline, are primarily a mixture of hydrocarbons (molecules containing hydrogen and carbon molecules) with small amounts of other substances. Crude oil is comprised of different lengths of hydrocarbon chains, with some short chains and some very long chains. Depending on how much the oil is broken down, or refined, it may become any number of products. On average, 44.4% of petroleum becomes gasoline. There really are no waste products from petroleum. The lighter chemicals are natural gas, liquified petroleum gas (LPG), jet fuel, and kerosene. The heavier products are used for the manufacture of lubricants, plastics, and asphalt. In addition, many less valuable products can be chemically converted into more saleable compounds.