The petroleum industry plays an essential part in our everyday lives. Not only does petroleum remain to be a valuable natural resource because it acts as a fuel for gasoline in automobiles, jet fuel in airplanes and jets, and heating oil in furnaces in homes, it is also used to generate electricity. Petroleum serves as a necessity every day, yet it creates a number of problems with its negative impact on the environment. Although the petroleum industry is beneficial to the general public because it provides fuel needed in everyday life, it is detrimental to the environment because it causes water pollution which negatively impacts the marine environment when an oil leak or spill occurs, it drains the earth of its natural resources, and offshore drilling and exploration deprive the environment of its natural beauty.
Lurking about in the water more than twenty years following the Exxon Valdez oil spill of the coast of Alaska, sea otters continue to find oil on their quest for clams in the Prince William Sound. There has been speculation (e.g., Bodkin et al. 2002; Peterson et al. 2003; Short et al. 2006) that this residual risk of exposure to SSOR, also known as subsurface oil residue, is sufficient to cause continuing adverse effects on species that feed in the ITZ, or intertidal zone, in particular sea otters and sea ducks at Northern Knight Island (NKI), an area that was heavily oiled by the spill and contains patches of SSOR (Harwell, M.A., et al., 2010). Although the sea otters may not directly digest the oil through drinking the water, these creatures typically cleanse their paws and faces after eating in order to groom themselves, thus causing them to ingest the oil. Their exposure to some types of the toxic compounds in oil, such as the most problematic being the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, can turn into more poisonous products, which can harm the otters DNA, or cause reduced fertility, cancer, or other problems.
Following an oil spill, all parts of the surrounding marine environment feel the impact. The rapid influx and high concentration of oil during a spill causes harm to these marine communities in the area. The plants and animals whose bodies become covered in oil die from mechanical smothering; different types of turtles perish after consuming oil-coated food; birds’ feathers lose their waterproofing, causing them to die from hypothermia; and more animals become confused and demonstrate unusual behavior changes after inhaling the volatile organic compounds.
Small spills can even create significant damage to the marine environment. In 1976 an oil tanker released 5 tons of oil into the Baltic Sea, which caused a silky, smooth patch of water there. During the treacherous stormy seas, this oil spread all around, killing 60,000 of the winter population of the long-tailed duck (Jernelov, 2010).
Marine organisms that reside close to an oil spill area face exposure to a myriad of petroleum-degrading microbes, hydrocarbons, and toxic substances related to drilling muds and produced water. In order to protect the ecologically sensitive coastlines around the Gulf of Mexico from the disastrous explosion and collapse of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig nearly two years, aircrafts carrying dispersants release these dispersants into the water at or near this site. About two million gallons of dispersants have been dumped into the oil in an intentional effort to protect the gulf’s sensitive coastline. Surface oil seems to affect only the surface of the water column; however, dispersed oil actually affects the entire water column. Surface oil slowly settles due to wind, wave action, and other factors. Dispersants don’t get rid of the oil; they transform it into droplets. The zooplankton, one of the minute pieces of the marine food web, becomes endangered. The zooplankton confuses the oil droplets for food, which inadvertently kill them off. Because zooplankton is a key component of the marine food web, the effects from this consumption spiral upward. The amount and varieties of marine life decreases especially with those living close to or in the seabed. Not only may the reproduction rates and growth of the entire groups of marine life that live in the water column decrease following an oil spill, but also genetic mutations may occur. A horrifying view of the Deepwater Horizon spill reveals unsettling glimpses of dying birds, oil-fouled marshes, and distressed coastal residents (Klemas, 2010).
Along with the devastation to wildlife that an oil spill causes, natural disasters play an active part as well. Hurricanes become some unavoidable storms in that area. One major dilemma revolved around how a hurricane would impact the oil spill if it hit. NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center was anticipating an active Atlantic hurricane season ranging from June to December 2010, including a number of named storms in the Gulf of Mexico, along with 8-14 hurricanes. Not only could a hurricane drive oil inland harming surrounding the wetlands and beaches, but also it could force polluted water up the nearby river estuaries (Klemas, 2009). Needless to say, the environmental harm would create a spiraling effect for the damage for the marine life there as well.
While oil is needed for a variety of reasons, the ongoing drilling to obtain it continues to diminish our supply of oil. Without the oil, fuel for automobiles and jet fuel for airplanes would be challenging to retrieve. Gas and oil are finite resources; therefore, all countries must consider using alternative energy resources to meet their energy needs, which means they incur additional financial expenses. One such alternative energy resource lies with nuclear energy via use of a nuclear reactor. Despite the financial setback with the use of nuclear energy, many unknown repercussions loom around, including: full energy and pollution costs for the extraction of the uranium from an ever decreasing grade ore, the energy and pollution generated during the construction of the power station complex, and the fact that the stringent safety needs are expensive (Dawe, R.A., 2008). With the rapid rise for the demand for energy, many nations resort to speedy development of more conventional fossil fuels (like natural gas, coal, and oil). These expedited actions create a multitude of environmental impacts, risks, and liabilities, including global warming, air pollution, and acid rain. Regardless of the cost, oil and gas won’t last forever, leaving alternative energy resources as a solution for this problem.
When looking at fossil fuels as alternatives to gas and oil, people must carefully look at the important parts these fuels have played in their lives over time. While some people believe that there is an infinite supply of fossil fuels, they are sadly mistaken. People have used them to such an extreme extent that they are now beginning to realize there is NOT an everlasting supply of fossil fuels either. Although fossil fuels have assisted people with supplying their need for energy in another way, people must notice the harm fossil fuels have caused as well. Some of the most significant environmental damages include air pollution, acid rain, and global warming (Liu, L., et al., 2007).
Although oil shortages are inevitable, the Great Lakes hold a substantial amount of oil and gas resources. According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in a 2006 study, the surveyors determined that the portion of the Great Lakes that lies in the United States holds 312 million barrels of undiscovered oil, as well as 5.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas (Coleman, J.L., et. al., 2006). Michigan is the one state, which holds the largest amount of oil and gas reserves; however, it has an existing ban on drilling for this new oil and gas in the Great Lakes. Drilling for these specific resources would produce risks that could negatively impact the Great Lakes’ freshwater. The negative impacts for the environment caused this group to decline further consideration for drilling in the Great Lakes. Some of these were: creating problems for habits of the fish and wildlife, polluting the public drinking water supplies, and possibly having consumption bans put on fish and game. While the effects of an oil spill can be short or long-term, the risks of drilling outweigh the benefits.
While the Earth’s physical environment showcases its own natural beauty, off shore oil drilling and exploration steal the limelight from this beauty with oil rigs, which are huge structures weighing thousands of tons used for oil drilling and exploring. Instead of mountains and open-ocean extending for miles, aluminum, steel, and concrete structures intermittently appear, interrupting the breath-taking mosaic scenery, which would occur without these awkward structures. Seashells, beach balls, and huge umbrellas surround the beach areas, surrounded by the numerous seashells slightly buried in the sand as the gentle ocean waves lap the beach. As a person looks across the ocean at the beautiful blue water and sees the gulls flying around, one then notices the huge, metal machinery as it continues making noise and creating disruption to the once peaceful, serene tranquility of a day at the beach. On- and off- shore exploration, drilling, and extraction activities infringe and negatively impact ecosystems, as well as human health and local cultures.
Drilling, extraction activities, and on- and off-shore exploration are extremely invasive activities that negatively impact local cultures, human health, and ecosystems. From the identification of potential oil reserves to the creation of roads, pipelines, and platforms to enable drilling to begin, these activities affect every aspect of the surrounding environment and its inclusive ecosystems. The drilling from extraction and exploration phases of attempts for oil extraction use large amounts of water, which is actually contaminated from the drilling and is then discharged into the environment along with cuttings from that area. The entire process from beginning to end provides a tremendous encroachment into the natural habitats of a number of populations of animals, such as: bottom-dwelling species, different marine mammals, and migratory birds. Not only do these activities create major disruptions in the habitats of a significant number of animals, but also gas and oil drilling and pumping are the cause of most of this sector’s waste (O’Rourke D., & Connolly, S., 2003).
O’Rourke and Connolly (2003) noticed a number of environmental problems:
“The physical alteration of environments from exploration, drilling, and extraction can be greater than from a large oil spill. Major impacts include deforestation, ecosystem destruction, chemical contamination of land and water, long-term harm to animal populations (particularly migratory birds and marine mammals), human health and safety risks for neighboring communities and oil industry workers, and displacement of indigenous communities” (p.594).
The petroleum industry continues to hold a significant place in today’s world. It is our primary fuel source. Without it society couldn’t function with regards to farming, transportation, heating, and electricity. As with anything, there are positive aspects with the petroleum industry as well as negative aspects. The most detrimental aspect regarding the petroleum industry lies with its impact on the environment. Despite the pros of the petroleum industry, petroleum itself yields devastating consequences. The most challenging cons fall with its impingement of the environment. On a final note – an amazing thought is how incredible petroleum is, especially because it derives from deep within the earth, and yet how it also destroys what is on the surface. Along with damage created by off-shore drilling comes the spills that occur with transportation of crude oil even more so than with offshore production operations (Bratland, 2004). Whether it is from drilling for the oil or transporting the crude oil once it is obtained, an oil spill is detrimental the all aspects of the environment no matter what.
Although the petroleum industry is beneficial to the general public because it provides fuel needed in everyday life, it is detrimental to the environment because it causes water pollution which negatively impacts the marine environment when an oil leak or spill occurs, it drains the earth of its natural resources, and offshore drilling and exploration deprive the environment of its natural beauty. People must continue to find a safer, less intrusive way to obtain the oil and gas needed to meet the energy needs for society today.
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