The oil and gas industry is one of the most vital to our civilisation. Even though several experiments are going on in terms of finding alternative sources of energy, it is petroleum that makes our lifestyle possible. Only for 2016, the IEA Oil Market Report forecasted an average demand of circa 96 million barrels of oil and liquid fuels per day, meaning more than 35 billion barrels per year.
Unfortunately, it comes with a price. The oil and gas industry has a significant impact on our environment. Thankfully, some effort has been made in order to minimise its negative effects over the recent years.
Carbon dioxide emission is one of the major environmental concerns
According to studies, the petroleum industry has a negative impact on many aspects of our environment due to its level of toxicity. The globe’s climate change that is currently experienced has also been considered as a result of the constant extraction of oil, due to the greenhouse effect created by the large amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
According to EIA (U.S. Energy Information Administration), around 19.64 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) are originated from burning a non-ethanol gallon of gasoline; and around 22.38 pounds of CO2 are produced from a gallon of diesel fuel.
The crude oil itself is the cause of death and birth defects on fish and birds every year. When the Deepwater Horizon 2010 spilt 205.8 million gallons of oil and 225,000 tonnes of methane into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, only 25% of the product was recovered. And, according to the Centre for Biodiversity report, it might have resulted in the harm of 82k birds, 6k sea turtles, and almost 26k marine mammals. Crude oil can also decrease the count of white cell in humans, destroying the immunologic system and leading to many forms of cancer, especially to leukaemia.
The combustion of distillate oil is also an incomplete process that sends to the atmosphere several components toxic to life. These elements are also blamed for causing heart and lung diseases. Acid rain is another consequence of the combustion of petroleum, which is considered as the cause of death coral reefs, corrosion of machinery and structures, and the destruction of archaeological ruins.
Automobile exhaust and oil spills come next
Benzene, present in the automobile exhaust, is known for being extremely toxic, carcinogenic, and to damage DNA. Waste oil, such as used oil, is a source of many concerns originated from natural petroleum, as its toxins might eventually reach the environment, poisoning drinking water, soil, rivers, and oceans.
Regarding natural gas, there are several issues been taken into consideration. For starters, it is a non-renewable fuel that emits carbon dioxide when burned, and that contains 80 to 95% of methane, a gas related to the greenhouse effect. Natural gas is also explosive, potentially dangerous, and requires extensive pipelines to be transported over land.
Finally, oil spills are a constant cause of international discussions. Oil tankers, tank vessels, and facilities are the main sources of this form of pollution, usually happening as a result of routine operations, but are those caused by accidents that have the largest amounts of the oil spill and environmental damage as a consequence.
In the last year, approximately 7,000 tonnes of oil were spilt in the environment, most of it due to major spills: one in Singapore, when 4,500 tonnes of crude oil were lost; and the second in Turkey, when 1,400 tonnes of naphtha were released to the environment. A collision was the cause of both incidents.
What has been done to minimise the negative impact
The oil and gas industry has been investing in technology and safety management so to minimise the negative impact of their products on the environment. And they are doing it not only for understanding their role but also for a question of business survival.
For instance, according to a study by PwC, 70% of oil and gas CEOs consider climate change and environmental damage as key risk to their industry. And 39% of them affirmed that there would be soon a significant shift in the way they manage this issue in order to respond to stakeholders expectations.
The number of incidents regarding oil spills has also dramatically fallen since the 70s when major incidents took place. In that decade, the average number of spills per year was 24.5 and nowadays it is of 1.8 per year. And several regulations and standards have been imposed by governments in many countries to ensure that the emission of greenhouse and other harmful gases will decrease in the next decades. So it is just a matter of time to the oil and gas industry makes relevant changes, and that we will write positive paper and notice them on top companies’ reviews, to maintain the sustainability of their business.