The Ecological Impact of Oil

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The Ecological Impact of Oil

One of the ways to obtain the oil is through hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking / Photo by Getty Images

 

Oil is the main substance that literally fuels our world. Without it, most cars wouldn’t be able to run, and we wouldn’t have many of the useful items we have today. But what sort of impact does oil have on the world in terms of its environmental effects?

 

The Environment and Ecology

Oil is the progenitor of the world’s petroleum products, such as medical equipment, plastic, gasoline, and fuel. They have become indispensable for life as we know it and make it easier for humans. However, they have a terrible effect on our environment, especially on air and water.

Burning petroleum products is one of the easiest ways to maximize their use. However, when these products are burned, especially as fuel, they can create a number of harmful emissions. These include carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, particulates, and even metals like lead, and air toxins, such as formaldehyde. These byproducts have several consequences, such as adding to the number of greenhouse gases that can destroy the ozone layer and encourage global warming. They can also cause harmful phenomena, such as acid rain and smog that can severely affect the respiratory and cardiac health of people living in a particular area. This can then cause a higher risk of asthma, acute bronchitis, heart disease, and even cancer.

When oil seeps into a water environment, it can spread a thin layer over it that prevents oxygen from reaching the plants and animals beneath them. Plants are unable to perform photosynthesis and can quickly die, and so the entire food chain is affected. Preening birds and fowl are often heavily affected as their plumage is doused in oil, which stops it from becoming waterproof.

 

Geological Impacts

One of the ways to obtain the oil is through hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. As stated by the US Energy Information Administration, oil can be produced from compacted geological formations and shale, which can have a great impact on the environment. A great amount of water is needed to “fracture” the rock formations. This results in some harmful chemicals leaking out from the rock strata during the process and also taking away significant amounts of water from places that need them for other uses and interfering with aquatic habitats.

The wastewater produced through these methods is also a large issue to tackle. Oftentimes, these are mixed with contaminants that must undergo a form of treatment before being either reused or simply disposed of. The sheer amount and complexity of the wastewater material pose challenges as to how to handle them. Even disposing the water into deep wells can cause earthquakes that are strong enough to be felt.

Oil is the progenitor of the world’s petroleum products, such as medical equipment, plastic, gasoline, and fuel / Photo by Getty Images

 

Another consequence of obtaining the oil is the oil spills. They can happen at any point of the collection and transportation phases from accidents at the refineries and wells themselves to spills caused by the ships, trucks or even pipelines carrying the oil. As the oil contaminates both soil and water, it can set up the scenario for large fires and even explosions. When oil gets to rural or even urban areas, it can render the water unusable for drinking or irrigation, and can even damage the water treatments plants themselves. Even oil vapors that enter housing or commercial buildings can make these places unsafe for use, and restoration might not be able to bring a building back to its former state. It becomes incredibly expensive to fix this problem, as reported by OilCare.org.

 

Improvements to Oil Technology

Over the years, with research shedding light on the ill effects of oil on the environment, government laws and advancements in technology have stepped in to reduce some of its impacts. Some environmental laws have influenced the industry on how they store, treat, and even produce their oil and oil products. In fact, the chemical makeup of gasoline and diesel fuels has been changed in order for them to cause less pollution and produce fewer emissions. These are called “reformulated fuels” and they burn without producing as many harmful substances as previous versions of fuels, according to Environment-Ecology.com.

Of course, the very act of obtaining oil is one that can disturb both land and sea habitats. “Footprints” are what some call the areas that have been visibly and majorly disturbed by exploration and drilling projects. Fortunately, advanced technology, such as remote sensors, global positioning systems, and 3D or 4D seismic models, have helped diggers locate oil reserves without having to drill as many wells just to find them.

When an oil reserve has been used, it becomes the prerogative of the industries to plug it up. Thus, the “rigs-to-reefs” program was created. Old offshore rigs are dragged out to sea and tipped over to lie on the seafloor to become artificial reefs that can host sea life. Barnacles, sponges, corals, and the like can all begin to live on these old rigs after six months.

While oil is a highly useful substance, humanity needs to deal with it responsibly so as not to harm the world we live in.

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