abbreviations and symbols
for barrel

The various abbreviations for barrel are replete with conflicting definitions.

Date Form Meaning Occurrence and comments
to present BO barrel of crude oil In use by the U.S. Dept. of Energy, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Texas Railroad Commission and others.
to present BW barrel of water Used in the petroleum industry in describing volumes of water pumped from petroleum wells.
2000 b/d “barrels per day” 

International Energy Agency.
Energy Policies of IEA Countries, 2000 Review.
Annex E, Glossary and List of Abbreviations.

  bbl/d “barrels per day”

U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Style Manual, chapter 6.

“b” for barrel is described as not “a standard abbreviation.”

2003 BBL barrel(s) American Petroleum Institute, Petroleum Industry Data Exchange (PIDX), Petroleum Industry Data Dictionary (PIDD): “Commonly abbreviated as BBL.”
2003 B or bbl barrel(s)

Petroleum Systems and Geologic Assessment of Oil and Gas in the Uinta-Piceance Province, Utah and Colorado.
U.S. Geological Survey Digital Data Series DDS-69-B.
Chapter 26, Abbreviations and Acronyms, T. R. Klett, compiler.

Agrees with U.S. Geological Survey World Petroleum Assessment 2000 — Description and Results, Chapter CF.

BB Billion barrels
BBL Billion barrels of petroleum liquids
BL Barrels of petroleum liquids; includes crude oil, condensate, and natural gas liquids.
BO Barrels of crude oil
2000 Bbbl billion barrels Minerals Management Service, 2000 Assessment, page 627.
bbl barrel(s)
Bbo billion barrels of oil
bopd barrels of oil per day
1989 BBL Barrel U. S. Census Bureau, on adopting the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System.
1967 bbl.   United States Government Printing Office Style Manual, revised edition, January 1967. Page 168. “The same form of abbreviation being used for both singular and plural.”

The Chicago Manual of Style, 14th edition (1993), section 14.39. Section 14.36 notes “Abbreviations of units of measure are identical in the singular and plural.”

1922 bbls.   Waverley Petroleum Handbook, 8th ed.
Page 133: “3 wood bbls. Oil or Grease...”, “Heavy steel bbls. measure...” 

From the context, it is clear these are physical barrels, not the 42-gallon petroleum barrel.

1872 bbl. barrel Derrick's Hand Book for 13 October 1872, reporting a resolution of the Council of Producers: “Resolved, ... that we will have $5 per bbl. of 42 gallons for our crude oil.”
1860 bbls. barrels

J. Smith Homan and J. Smith Homans, Jr.
A Cyclopedia of Commerce and Commercial Navigation. 2nd Edition.
New York: Harper and Brothers, 1860.

See for example page 1421, a table describing goods coming into New Orleans from the interior, where “bbls” is applied to barrels of apples, bacon, beans, butter, cornmeal, cider, western coal, dried peaches, dried apples, flour, lard, western lime, molasses, oats, onions, linseed oil, castor oil, lard oil, pickles, potatoes, pork, porter and ale, sugar, tallow, whisky and wheat. (The same list includes a tierce of flaxseed.)

This example alone, predating as it does the petroleum industry, shows that the abbreviation “bbl” did not originate within that industry, contrary to Paul H. Gidden's ingenious “blue barrel” supposition.

1846 bbl. barrel

The Magazine of Horticulture, January 1846.

Page 38: Extensive list of varieties of apples, priced “per bbl.”

1816 bbls barrels

Niles Weekly Register, June 15, 1816. Supplement.
Page 369.

“23,650 bbls. tar”; “6,015 bbls. flour”; etc

1801 bbl barrel

William Cobbett, Porcupine's Works, Vol. VIII, May 1801. Page 462

“The schooner Columbus, Mason, from St. Vincent's, for Kennebunk, was boarded by a French privateer, which detained her six hours, and took out of her 60 gallons of rum, a bbl. of sugar, &c."

1795 bbl

Some Information Respecting America Collected by Thomas Cooper.
London: Printed for J. Johnson, 1795.

Page 152: “Herrings, per bbl.” But page 151: “Beef, Boston, a bar. of 200lb.” “Flour, Superfine, per bar. of 196 lb.”

1756 bbl.

Pennsylvania Archives, page 217.

“eight barrells of bread, one bbl. of flour, one bbl. of Pease, four bbs. of beef, two bbs. of Pork”

If other examples can be found, this may perhaps indicate separate abbreviations for the singular and plural, which would throw some light on the origin of the abbreviation.

1660 barll

“A Subsidy granted to the King of Tonnage and Poundage and other summes of Money payable upon Merchandize Exported and Imported.”
A statute from the 12th year of Charles II, 1660. The selection is from the Booke of Rates, which is not part of the statute proper but developed from it. Both are printed in:
Statutes of the Realm, Volume 5: 1628-80, John Raithby, editor.
London: 1819.

“Apples vocat. Pippins or Rinnets the barll 9t. 3 bushells…
Beef of Ireland or Scotland the barll
Spruce Eeles the barrll

The petroleum industry and government agencies frequently use the prefix M for a thousand and MM for million, e.g, “MMbbl/d” is millions of barrels per day and “Mbbl/d” is thousands of barrels per day.

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