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Since You Asked: How many Twinkies in a barrel of oil?

With oil at $86 per barrel, how many gallons of gas are refined out of a barrel?

— B. Higgins, special delivery

It's been less than a week since you dropped off your question in the lobby of Since You Asked's Stately Pleasure Dome, but crude oil leapt to more than $94 a barrel by the time we checked on Halloween. Scary. Do we hear $100 ... or $150? (For comparison, oil was at $27 when we went to war with Iraq in March 2003.)

According to the U.S. government, a 42-gallon barrel of oil produces ... 44 gallons of petroleum products! Hey, it's magic! And if your government tells you it's so, it's true, right?

OK, having checked this claim against other trustworthy sources, we'll agree with their numbers. Some of the products produced are gases that expand in volume, though the amount of energy never grows through refining. Law of Conservation of Matter and Energy and stuff.

One barrel of crude oil, when refined, produces about 20 gallons of finished gasoline, 9 gallons of diesel/fuel oil, 4 gallons of jet fuel, 2.3 gallons of heavy fuel oil (ship engines, power generation) as well as other petroleum products, including up to a couple gallons each of liquefied refinery gases, still gas, coke, asphalt and road oil, petrochemical feedstock (to make plastics, synthetic rubber, solvents), lubricants and kerosene.

Other products made from petroleum include ink, crayons, bubble gum, dishwashing liquids, deodorant, eyeglasses, LP records (what are those?), tires, ammonia and heart valves.

Oh, and: Let them eat Twinkies! We guess-timate a single barrel of oil could produce about 9,524 Twinkies

(see correction below). The energy in one barrel of oil converts to approximately 1.428 billion calories, divided by 150-kilocalorie Twinkies (read Steve Ettlinger's "Twinkie: Deconstructed" for more on the petroleum products in Twinkies).

Our genius idea for the day: A Twinkie-fueled Prius Hybrid! You can thank us later.

If you're a Twinkie fan, don't fret. Consider table salt, made of sodium (which explodes on contact with water and forms a caustic alkali known as lye) and chlorine (a deadly poisonous gas). And most breads contain five types of rock. You put that stuff in your body?

CORRECTION: Our conversion of Twinkie calories was originally in error because we failed to consider that food calories are measured in kilocalories (1,000 calories). And sodium in water (sodium hydroxide) was misidentified on the pH scale in the original answer. Both errors have been corrected in this version.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com.