You may think you know where crude oil comes from, but you may be wrong.

Dinosaurs have been synonymous with the petroleum industry for decades, a public association that has lasted for close to a century. A prevailing narrative is that after tens of millions of years, our oil somehow comes from whatever is left of these big bodies. That’s why they’re called fossil fuels, right? And dinosaurs, allegedly, are the fossil source.

Examples are legion:

  • Dino, the Sinclair Dinosaur was born in 1933 for its papier-mâché premier at the World’s Fair in Chicago, “A Century of Progress.” He was also front and center for the Dinoland exhibit at the 1964 New York World’s Fair.
  • Dinoco Brand Gasoline from Disney’s movie series, Cars, has a logo that pays homage to Dino.
  • In a series of commercials that aired in the 1990’s Exxon used the visual of a walking dinosaur to highlight that petroleum was made from fossils.
  • BP has long sponsored the Natural History Museum in London, particularly the iconic dinosaur exhibit that greets visitors.
  • Denver the Last Dinosaur is an animated series from the late 80s where the titular character, Denver, is found inside a prehistoric egg at the site of a fossil fuel dig.
  • In the popular mid-century children’s book, The Enormous Egg, the little boy who helps hatch a dinosaur and makes it his pet, is approached by a local gas station owner to ask if he can put the dinosaur on display at his site. (The family declines).

It’s all very interesting, right? Except for one thing. That Dino/Oil connection, well… it doesn’t exist! The science behind fossil fuels doesn’t work that way at all.

In actuality, crude oil and natural gas, the raw forms of petroleum, are formed over millions of years from the remains of simple organisms—sea plants and animals (plankton), not dinosaurs. After these organisms died, they sank to the sea or lake bottom. Over time, they were buried under layers of sediment and subjected to heat and pressure, which slowly transformed them into oil and gas. In fact, the fossil record of dinosaurs is entirely separate from the transformation process that created petroleum.

Nevertheless, it’s one of those cultural fictions that has truly embedded itself into the fabric of our lives. Plus we’re skeptical of commercial viability of a plankton mascot

[1]:

It’s also likely that we associate dinosaurs with oil because, well, everybody likes dinosaurs! And you know what? It makes the industry a little more fun and colorful. While the team here at SSCS has no plans for a mascot—concentrating on superior software and service occupies most of our time—we’d like to take this opportunity to celebrate the varied mascots that are a part of our industry, not just the ones that are prehistoric animals. The general public loves them, and we’re pretty fond of them, too!

[1] Unless you count Sheldon J. Plankton in Spongebob Squarepants, except he’s pretty much evil.