Extreme Oil
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The Journey The History The Science

Lesson Plan 2: Exploring the Science of Oil


Programs from Thirteen/WNET New York's "Extreme Oil" series detail the exploration, refining and transportation of one of the world's most prized commodities: oil. The search for oil involves significantly more than simply digging a hole hoping for the proverbial "gusher." The technological advances and equipment used to find and extract oil is thoroughly examined in two areas of the world. Those locations would include Canada and Alaska.

In this lesson, students will have an opportunity to take a virtual tour around a ground-based operation and an offshore drilling site whereby they can become familiar with how oil is extracted and processed. The virtual tour allows students to peruse the online sources to grasp how complex it is for a company to produce one barrel of oil. They will also a broader understanding of the various chemical components found in oil after it has been refined through a process called fractional distillation. Finally, the students will be given the task as an engineer to experimentally distill a colorless solution from common colored solution using similar techniques discussed in crude oil distillation.

Subject Matter: Biology, Chemistry, Physical Science

Learning Objectives:

Students will be able to:

  • Identify key equipment used in extracting oil from the ground or deep ocean sources.

  • Describe the basic techniques used in finding and producing oil.

  • Identify major classes of hydrocarbons found in crude oils.

  • Describe how fractional distillation operates with regards to oil refining.

  • Describe all the products derived from crude oil after processed through fractional distillation.

  • Experiment with solutions to maximize the amount of colorless liquid produced from colored solutions.

  • Propose possible solutions to avoiding pollution and restoring land sources to their original ecological level.

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National Standards
From the National Science Education Standards, available online at

Physical Science
CONTENT STANDARD B: As a result of their activities, all students should develop an understanding of structure of atoms and structure and properties of matter.

Science and Technology
CONTENT STANDARD E: As a result of activities in grades 9-12, all students should develop abilities of technological design and understandings about science and technology

Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
CONTENT STANDARD F: As a result of activities in grades 9-12, all students should develop understanding of natural resources, environmental quality, natural and human-induced hazards and science and technology in local, national, and global challenges.


Each student will need the following supplies:
  • Computer with Internet access

  • Pen or pencil

  • Graphic organizer for collecting and organizing information
Per Two Students:
  • 1 empty soda can
  • 4 oz to 8 oz. Clear glass jar with narrow opening at top
  • 4 oz to 8 oz. Clear glass jar, which will fit under the narrow opening jar
  • 4" x 12" piece of aluminum foil
  • Bunsen burner
  • Ring stand
  • Iron Ring wire screen
  • Table salt
  • 6 ozs or 150 milliliters of cranberry, apple juice, coke, orange soda or colored aqueous solution (avoid using inorganic chemical solutions such as KMnO4, K2Cr2O7, or CuSO4 because they will react with the aluminum in the cans)
  • Masking tape
Teachers will need the following supplies:
  • Television and VCR
  • Video of Extreme Oil, #3- "The Wilderness". Cue the video to where you see a ( )

Prep For Teachers

Computer Resources
  • Modem: 56.6 Kbps or faster
  • Browser: Netscape Navigator 4.0 or above or Internet Explorer 4.0 or above. Macintosh computer: System 8.1 or above and at least 32 MB of RAM
  • Large screen display monitor (optional)
Specific Software Needed: Media Component

Video: Extreme Oil, Episode #3- "The Wilderness." The students will view two parts of the video to identify key components necessary to extract oil from either the ground or from the ocean.

Online Resources:

Virtual Tour of Oil Drilling Sites
The site is divided into four separate study areas. Two areas are virtual tours of a current land oil-drilling unit and the other tour offers views of an offshore digging rig.

How Oil Refining Works
This is a complete site detailing all sorts of information from the basic components of crude oil or hydrocarbons, what is involved in oil refining, the products distilled from crude oil, and details about what fractional distillation actually encompasses.

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About the Series For Teachers Resources Pledge Sitemap
Lesson Plan 1 Lesson Plan 2 Introduction procedures for teachers organizers for students