Is oil made of dinosaurs?

I’ll never forget when I first made the connection that oil and gas ‘came from dinosaurs.’ I was in my late 30’s watching the movie Cars 2 with my children when Tow Mater also first learned that gasoline is made out of dinosaurs.

On a television news broadcast, Sir Miles Axel Rod said, “Come on! Oil is a fossil fuel! Fossil! As in – ‘Dead dinosaurs!’ And we all know what happened to them.”

Then Mater asked, “What happened to the dinosaurs now???”  

And I was like, “Shooot!” or… “Dag-nab-it!” or… whatever Mater always says.

And then, all of a sudden, the Dinoco thing made sense. The Dinoco logo is a dinosaur. How had I not noticed that before?

That’s why that Sinclair gas station has a huge green dinosaur in the lawn.

And here I thought it was just for the kids.

I can’t believe I was so old and hadn’t ever made that connection before. Fittingly, I felt about as stupid as Tow Mater. He and I were literally making this realization for the first time in our adult lives. “Shooot!”

Now the next question I had, especially since I had never heard this before, was, “Maybe there’s a reason why I haven’t heard this before. Maybe it isn’t true and maybe I’m not a dumb redneck.  

Is it true? Does oil really come from dinosaurs? Is the gas that we use in our car, which is commonly called a fossil fuel, really made out of dinosaur fossils?


Where does oil come from? Oil, gas, and coal do not come from dinosaurs but they do come from the prehistoric times. Oil and gas are made from organisms found in ancient oceans. As tiny microorganisms such as plants, bacteria, algae, and plankton died they literally covered the ocean floor.

fossil fuels and dinosaurs

You heard that correctly.

The source of all of our oil did not come from the world’s largest animals – AKA dinosaurs…

but it actually came from the world’s smallest, microscopic, animals – AKA Plankton and bacteria.

I know what you’re thinking.

How in the world do we get as much oil as we have from tiny microscopic organisms? Wouldn’t it make more sense that it came from giant dinosaurs?

The answer is no.

We have to understand that there weren’t as many giant dinosaurs as there were oceans filled with plant and micro-organic life. Over the course of millions of years, these huge oceans left millions of tons of organic matter on the Ocean Floors that resulted in millions of tons of oil.

“When considering this, it’s important to try to grasp the concept of deep geologic time, a talent possessed by very few people. Try to wrap your mind around the enormity of the figures: bacteria and single-celled organisms were the dominant forms of life on earth for a whopping two and a half to three billion years, a virtually incomprehensible stretch of time when measured against human civilization, which is only about 10,000 years old, and even against the reign of the dinosaurs, which lasted “only” about 165 million years. That’s a lot of bacteria, a lot of time, and a lot of oil.”

oil did not come from dinosaurs

How do we get oil?

Now, over the course of millions of years these layers a bacteria continued to grow and get heavier and heavier. This layer eventually turn into a dark sludge. A black goo.

‘Black Gold!’

Or ‘Texas Tea!’

Actually, the technical term is ‘kerogen.’

Kerogen is a solid organic matter in sedimentary rocks. It is a mixture of organic chemical compounds that make up a portion of the organic matter in sedimentary rocks.”

did oil come from dinos

Eventually, this kerogen begins to ‘cook’ due to the extreme pressure and heat from the Earth’s core. The constant pressure and movement of the earth’s crust can push some of the oil through spaces between rocks. Allowing oil to rise to the top somewhat naturally.

But… Most of the oil gets locked underneath impenetrable layers. Those layers hold the oil back. As more and more oil begins to rise, it too gets locked up and pools together in what we call a reservoir.

Reservoirs of trapped oil can grow as large as an entire city.

Those pools of oil create an opportunity for us. We get that oil by drilling down through the impenetrable rock and then pump the oil out of those huge reservoirs.

fossil fuels and dinosaurs


Why are oil and gas called fossil fuels?

The 3 main forms of fossil fuels are oil, gas, and coal. These are called fossil fuels only because they were formed millions of years ago during the Carboniferous Period.

That is the only reason they are called ‘fossil fuels.’

Oil, gas, and coal do come from fossils.

Just not dinosaur fossils. And here’s why.

The Carboniferous period is in the Paleozoic Era.

If you love dinosaurs then you probably already know that there were not any ‘dinosaurs’ in the Paleozoic Era.

The word Paleozoic comes from 2 Greek words:

  1. palaios – which means “old”
  2. zoe – which means “life”

Therefore, ‘Paleo – zoic’ literally means “ancient life”

The Paleozoic was a time of dramatic geological, climatic, and evolutionary change. The Cambrian witnessed the most rapid and widespread diversification of life in Earth’s history, known as the Cambrian explosion, in which most modern phyla first appeared. Arthropods, mollusks, fish, amphibians, synapsids, and diapsids all evolved during the Paleozoic. Life began in the ocean but eventually transitioned onto land, and by the late Paleozoic, it was dominated by various forms of organisms.”

fossil fuels and dinosaurs

The Paleozoic Era consisted of the following ‘Periods.’ Note the characteristic of each period.

Cambrian (544 to 505 million years ago)
Many types of primitive animals called sponges evolved. Small ocean invertebrates called trilobites became abundant.


Ordovician Period (505–440 million years ago)

Oceans became filled with invertebrates of many types. Also during this period, the first fish evolved and plants colonized the land for the first time. But animals still remained in the water.


Silurian Period (440–410 million years ago)

Corals appeared in the oceans, and fish continued to evolve. On land, vascular plants appeared. With special tissues to circulate water and other materials, these plants could grow larger than the earlier nonvascular plants.


Devonian Period (410–360 million years ago)

The first seed plants evolved. Seed plants eventually became the most common type of land plants. In the oceans, fish with lobe fins evolved. They could breathe air when they raised their heads above water.


Carboniferous Period (360–290 million years ago)

Widespread forests of huge plants left massive deposits of carbon that eventually turned to coal. The first amphibians evolved to move out of the water and colonize land. Soon after amphibians arose, the first reptiles evolved.

By the way, this carboniferous period is where we get must of our ‘fossil fuels’.  ‘Carboniferous’ gets its name from carbon, the basic element in coal and other fossil fuels.”


Dinoco, of course, is a fictitious fuel company that sponsored Lightning McQueen in the movie Pixar’s Cars. Dinoco is also featured in Pixar’s Toy Story. This fictitious oil company was probably based after a very old famous oil company by the name of Sinclair Oil.

If you look at their logos they look very similar.

fossil fuels and dinosaurs

Sinclair has a pretty cool website today talking about the history of their dinosaur mascot. Here is what they say:

“Sinclair’s advertising writers first had the idea to use dinosaurs in Sinclair marketing back in 1930. They were promoting lubricants refined from crude oil believed to have formed when dinosaurs roamed the earth. The original campaign included a dozen different dinosaurs, but it was the gentle giant, the Apatosaurus, that captured the hearts of Americans.”

And, Here is what Sinclair said back in 1934 in The Sinclair Dinosaur Book:

“Sinclair uses dinosaurs to symbolize the vast age of the crude oils which are refined into Sinclair Opaline Motor Oil and Sinclair Pennsylvania Motor Oil (by and large, the oldest crudes make the finest lubricants). It was during the lifetime of such prehistoric creatures that nature was mellowing and filtering under the earth the crude oils which are refined into Sinclair Motor Oils.” The Sinclair Dinosaur Book (1934)

Unfortunately, this marketing campaign trained our brains to think of ‘fossil fuels’ as dinosaur fossil fuels.

It’s kind of understandable because think about it.

When you hear the word fossil what do you think of?

Most people automatically think of dinosaurs every time they hear the word fossil.

But fossils aren’t always dinosaurs.

The word fossil is defined as:

FOSSIL: the remains or impression of a prehistoric organism preserved in petrified form or as a mold or cast in rock. 


Kenneth Lacovara, with Powell’s Books states, “Their crafty marketing campaign, I think, sealed the link between dinosaurs and oil in the public imagination, drilling the faulty connection into the minds of nearly everyone.”

oil and dinosaurs

Are plastic dinosaurs made from real dinosaurs?

Well, to conclude,  I should mention the funny memes or the interesting connection that people on the internet like to make about dinosaurs and fossil fuels. Particularly the petroleum that comes from oil which we use today to make plastics.

It is often stated that”

“If oil and petroleum are made from dinosaurs, and since petroleum makes plastics, can we then say that when a child is playing with a plastic dinosaur he is in fact actually playing with a literal dinosaur?”

  • Dinosaurs make oil…
  • Oil makes plastic…
  • Therefore, plastic dinosaurs are dinosaurs.

The answer to this question. If you’ve been paying attention, is an obvious, “NO!”

Why, because oil does not come from dinosaurs.