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.
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, gases and chemicals 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.
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.
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.
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.