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How BIG is a Barrel?

Products derived from One Barrel of Crude Oil

A confusing unit of measure is a barrel. A barrel's capacity is determined often by who uses the term, or what it contains.

For example:

  • 1 barrel (bbl) of petroleum or related products = 42 gallons.
  • 1 barrel of Portland cement is 376 pounds.
  • 1 barrel of flour - 196 pounds.
  • 1 barrel of pork or fish - 200 pounds.
  • 1 barrel of (US) dry measure is 3.29122 bushels or 4.2104 cubic feet.
  • A barrel may be called a "drum", but a drum usually holds 55 gallons!
  • 1 barrel going over Niagara Falls was big enough to carry a man.


Converting Energy Units          

Tons, barrels, cubic feet--how do you compare apples and oranges? To make meaningful comparisons of energy commodities, you must convert physical units of measure (such as weight or volume) and the energy content of each fuel to comparable units. One practical way to compare different fuels is to convert them into units of heat content, such as British thermal units (Btu), joules, or calories. The Btu is the measure of thermal energy used most frequently in the United States. The following factors may be used to convert U.S. thermal energy units to metric energy units (joules):

U.S. Units    


Equivalent Metric Units

1 British thermal unit (Btu)


1,055.05585262 joules (J)

1 calorie (cal)


4.1868 joules (J)

1 kilowatthour (kWh)


3.6 megajoules(MJ)

Conversion Tables:
Metric ton        D2 divide by 7.46 = BBL
Metric ton        Gasoline divide by 8.53 = BBL
Metric ton        Jet Fuel divide by 7.93 = BBL

1 BBL = 42 gallons
* All our gasoline is priced as cents per gallon off Gulf Waterborne PLATT



Physical units reflect measures of distances, areas, volumes, heights, weights, mass, force, impulse and energy. Different types of energy are measured by different physical units: barrels or gallons for petroleum; cubic feet for natural gas; tons for coal; kilowatt-hours for electricity. To compare different fuels, we need to convert the measurements to the same units. Some popular units for comparing energy include: British Thermal Units (Btu), barrels of oil equivalents, metric tons of oil equivalents, metric tons of coal equivalents, and terajoules. In the United States, the British Thermal Unit (Btu), a measure of heat energy, is the most commonly used unit for comparing fuels. Because energy used in different countries comes from different places, the Btu content of fuels varies slightly from country to country. The Btu content provided below and used in the energy calculator reflect the average energy contents for fuels consumed in the United States.

BTU Content of Common Energy Units

1 barrel(42 gallons) of crude oil = 5,800,000 Btu

1 gallon of gasoline = 124,000 Btu

1 gallon of diesel fuel = 139,000 Btu

1 gallon of heating oil = 139,000 Btu

1 barrel of residual fuel oil = 6,287,000 Btu

1 cubic foot of natural gas = 1,031 Btu

1 gallon of propane = 91,000 Btu

1 short ton of coal = 20,754,000 Btu

1 kilowatthour of electricity = 3,412 Btu





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