Gasoline Facts for Kids

You've seen gasoline pumped into the tank of a car, but what exactly is that fuel? Where did it come from? What is it made of? How did it get to the station? What does it do to the environment? When it comes to gasoline, your kids might have a lot of questions.

The Beginning

Gasoline comes from crude oil. This oil was formed from plants and animals that lived millions and millions of years ago. Time passed, and their remains became buried. High temperatures and intense pressure affected the plants and animals and turned them into liquid oil. Gasoline is called a “fossil fuel” because it is made from animals and plants that were alive millions of years ago.


In 1859, the first U.S. oil well was dug in Titusville, Pennsylvania. The crude oil was used to make kerosene. Gasoline was a by-product of that process. However, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, gasoline was not really important until 1892, when the automobile was invented 1. In less than 30 years, 9 million cars were using gasoline in the U.S.


Refineries are factories where crude oil is turned into products such as heating oil, jet fuel and propane. Gasoline is the most-produced product, though. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, almost half of the crude oil in refineries is used to make gasoline 1. The U.S. gets about 60 percent of the crude oil it refines from other countries. For every 42 gallons (one barrel) of oil that is refined, 19 gallons of gasoline are made.


The U.S. Energy Information Administration offers many facts about gasoline consumption 1. In 2011, 360 million gallons of gasoline were used every day in the United States. Why so much? Lots of cars, trucks, farm equipment, boats, construction equipment and recreational vehicles use gasoline. More than 250 million vehicles run on gasoline. In fact, almost 20 percent of all the energy used in the U.S. in 2011 was in the form of gasoline. A lot of this gasoline is mixed with ethanol, which is made from corn.


When gasoline is used, harmful leftovers such as carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons go into the air and cause pollution. Carbon dioxide goes way up into the air and hangs around. It’s one of the greenhouse gases. They hold in heat and contribute to climate change.


In 1970, the Clean Air Act was passed. Since then, even more rules have been made to help make the U.S. cleaner. For example, lead used to be in gasoline, but too much is harmful to humans. Some cars in the U.S. started using unleaded gas in the 1970s, and by 1986, Americans could not buy leaded gas. Starting in 1990, gasoline had to burn cleaner to make less air pollution. In that same year, storage tanks at gasoline stations were changed to keep gasoline from leaking into the ground.