What Are the Risks of the Oil and Gas Industry?

While it’s currently necessary, there is a need to identify better alternative energy sources because of the risks of the oil and gas industry. There are risks to the environment and also to people, including workers in the industry.

The oil and gas industry is the largest source of emissions of greenhouse gases in the United States, despite being tightly regulated.

The following are things to know about the different type of human and environmental risks that come with the extraction and processing of oil.

Risks of the Oil and Gas Industry

Employee Dangers

Working in the oil industry tends to be very lucrative, and these jobs are hard to fill often. The pay is why people continue in the industry, despite the risk. Trends seem to show worsening fatality rates among workers in the industry, particularly in Texas. Texas is the largest oil-producing state in the country. There were more than 530 fatal occupational industries in Texas in 2017 related to this industry.

Since 2016, fatality rates have been increasing.

Oil production went up almost 25% in the U.S. between 2017 and 2018, which may play a role. There are more demanding deadlines for production and an increased quantity of work, which could mean more significant risks for workers.

Specific Worker Risks

There are many, but a few of the more common risks that workers in oil and gas face on the job every day include:

  • Vehicle collisions when workers and equipment are being transported to and from well sites which are often remotely located and require long-distance travel. Around 4 of every ten workers killed on the job in the industry die because of a highway vehicle accident.
  • Being stuck between moving vehicles, equipment, fall equipment and high-pressure lines leads to on-site injuries and deaths.
  • When someone works in the oil and gas industry, they are at risk of being exposed to explosions and fires because of the ignition of vapors and gases that are highly flammable. Gases and vapors, as well as hydrogen sulfide, are released from wells, equipment and trucks.
  • Another considerable risk for workers in this industry are falls because often, employees have to access equipment and platforms that are high above the ground.
  • High-pressure lines and equipment create hazards, including the potential for compressed gas exposure.

There are around 1.2 million oil and gas production facilities across the country, ranging from active wells to processing plants. More than 12 million people live within ½ mile of these locations, and below are some risks they might face.

Community Exposure

Fossil fuel pollution is sometimes called an invisible killer because it can contribute to heart and respiratory diseases over time, which are leading causes of death.

environmental risks of oil and gas industry

Fossil fuels also leak substances into the soil and drinking water sources that can be toxic, cause cancer, birth defects and contribute to liver damage.

Research shows the industry’s impact most heavily affects minority, low-income and rural communities because they are closest to these sites and may be most exposed to toxins.

There’s also a link between volatile organic compounds and the emission of nitrogen oxide that create smog. Smog is linked to a higher risk of asthma in the young and elderly, leading to missed school and workdays and increased hospitalizations.

Behind only coal-fired power plants, oil and gas production is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases in the country.

Wildlife Disruption

The extraction of oil and gas disrupts natural balance and wildlife in addition to harming humans.

Vehicle traffic, noises and movement can impact how animals breed, nest and communicate. The habitats of many species can be broken up by the introduction of fences, roads and powerlines.

When there are oil spills, these often kill large numbers of animals and create long-lasting marine ecosystem damage. For example, the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico led to oil spreading for 68,000 square miles over the sea.

That incident alone killed around one million seabirds, 1,000 sea turtles, and 5,000 marine mammals.

Even though we don’t always hear about them, there are often more minor spills. For example, in 2020, there were nearly 2,180 spills in Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming.

Finally, when the needed infrastructure for oil and gas extraction is developed, it significantly and negatively impacts wildlands. Wilderness is destroyed, and the damage can’t be reversed typically.

There are more than 12 million acres of public lands being used for the production of fossil fuels. To make this happen, vegetation has to be removed, and even when the sites are abandoned, it can take centuries for the land to recover.

Waste Management and Sustainability

Waste management is one of the core themes of sustainability, but achieving sustainable waste management is a challenging and complex task. Despite the fact that an increasing amount of waste has been reused and recycled, landfills still play an important role in the management of wastes.

However, waste degradation in landfill produce leachate and harmful gases viz. carbon dioxide, methane which are considered as greenhouse gases. It has been studied that leachate contribute to 20% emission of greenhouse gases. This can largely risk human health as well as threat to environment. Furthermore, it contains low concentration of gases with heavy aromatic rings, most of them are toxic in nature.

The increasing cost of waste disposal is a cause of major concern in developing nations

Movements of leachate create problem as aquifers need more time for rehabilitation. Leachate can migrate to groundwater or surface water and have potential threat to drinking water. Constructing landfills have adverse effects on aquaculture and habitats by diffusing leachate into surface/groundwater with limited on-site recycling activities.

Various studies also claim that residential areas close to landfill areas have low housing values because people don’t prefer to live close to the area enriched with flies, mosquitoes, bacteria and bad odours.

The lower calorific value of wastes lowers the significance of waste-to-energy technologies, such as incineration/gasification, and make waste-to-energy less viable as solution for waste management solution. The low calorific value is an important outcome of waste collection process.

Waste scavengers often collect in a mixed state with all type of wastes, which include reusable materials, plastic, glass bottles etc. which reduces the calorific value and combustibility of waste. Waste is usually sorted out manually and unfortunately it becomes very difficult to regulate and implement an efficient method. This kind of waste recovery methods is very common in Asian countries e.g. India, Indonesia etc. using improper waste management technique can cause contaminated soil, water and environment.

Water is most easy to contaminate as it dissolves chemicals easily, causing harm to all living organisms including humans. Animal and marine life is most effected with water contamination. It also restricts our use of water for drinking and cooking purposes without cleaning system. The environment is highly harmed because of improper waste management.

Greenhouse gases are generated from decomposition of waste, these gasses are major cause of global warming affecting air precipitation, causing acid rain to severe hailstorms. Moreover humans who live near to garbage dumping area are found to be most significant to risk of health diseases, skin problems, cancer etc.

Olusosun is the largest dumpsite in Nigeria

With proper awareness and teaching methods of efficient waste management we can achieve sustainable solution to waste management. It has been forecasted by Environmental Sanitary Protection Plan that, by 2020 Kamikatsu a city in Japan is going to be 100% free from waste. Although the target of reaching the 100% waste is going to be achieved but the standby waste issue is going to be major hurdle as Kamikatsu have only 34% of land space available.

The lack of availability of standby space for waste is going to be major problem in future because of shortage of space, degraded quality of waste with lower calorific value and formation of leachate. And unfortunately, this issue is not going to be solved very soon.

How Green is Biomass?

As we strive to shrink our global carbon footprint, society must alter its energy sources. Solar panels and wind turbines are two familiar types of green power that contribute to protecting the planet. Investing in renewables can improve the environment and lower the cost of electricity.

As scientists look for efficient and sustainable solutions to non-renewable energy use, they turn back to basics. People used to rely on fire for fuel. Today, we can utilize these age-old practices to limit our reliance on environmentally polluting fuel sources.

The Importance of Renewable Energy

Nearly 80% of our current energy comes from coal, oil and gas. The use of fossil fuels in power production harms human health and the planet.

About 2.6 million Americans experience health issues from oil and gas exposure from fossil fuel transportation and processing facilities. Benzene and formaldehyde are two toxins associated with nonrenewable energy production that contribute to leukemia and blood disorders. The workers who mine oil and gas also risk exposure to airborne pollutants that cause lung cancer and breathing difficulties.

The production of fossil fuel energy affects the environment by emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The greenhouse effect is a natural process that the Earth uses to maintain life on its surface. It keeps the global temperature consistent to protect the ecosystem’s functionality.

Adding pollutants into the atmosphere changes its composition. These greenhouse gases absorb the sun’s energy, convert it into heat and release it back to space. Excess contaminants make it difficult to allow heat to escape. This increases the global temperature over time.

Renewable energy sources act as an alternative to greenhouse gas-emitting power. Various companies are working on producing a chemical-free solution known as biomass energy.

What is Biomass?

Biomass is a form of renewable energy derived from organic materials. Wood was the original source used by the first humans for survival. Now, we can rely on wood pellets, sawdust, black liquor and more to create commercial and residential fuel options.

biomass-sustainability

We can also utilize agricultural matter to produce biomass. Soybeans, corn, algae, sugar cane and other plants can create fuel to power our homes, electric cars and devices. Scientists are also using refuse for energy production. Municipal solid waste, like cotton, paper, yarn and food, can transform into biomass power. A less appealing way to produce this renewable energy derives from animal manure and human waste.

Companies take these materials and create energy through a direct combustion process. It forms a refined liquid or gas to burn for power. Because plants grow naturally and indefinitely on Earth, biomass is a renewable source.

Environmental Effect of Biomass

Although biomass production and use emit no direct carbon into the environment, it may be less sustainable than other renewable power sources. When burned, these fuels release toxins like nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter into the atmosphere.

Elephant-Grass

Biomass production also contributes to deforestation. Many companies use soybeans to create the renewable fuel, which affects forests in Argentina. The country produces 15% of the global soy source, using 16 million hectares of forest land for production.

As Argentina increases production to meet international demands, it must cut down trees and vegetation to make space for agricultural growth. The monoculture of soy also leads to soil depletion. To reverse these environmental impacts, farms use synthetic fertilizers and pesticides on their land.

Because biomass crops are water-intensive, they contribute to runoff pollution. When farmers water their plants, the synthetic fertilizers and pesticides drain into the ocean, contributing to oxygen depletion and dead zones. The significant amount of water used to produce these crops leads to resource exploitation. It takes nearly 4,000 gallons of water to grow a bushel of corn for biomass energy.

Is Biomass Worth the Destruction?

Biomass can effectively reduce the carbon footprint. The renewable energy source also limits the adverse health effects associated with conventional energy production. However, it emits air pollutants into the atmosphere, causing deforestation and water exploitation, which decreases its sustainability.

The answer is complicated. Every renewable energy source has its downfalls. When you use a bit of energy from each green resource, you can limit your environmental impact and still power the planet.