The 21st Century represents a culmination of human development in different respects. In the natural resource sector, there have been massive establishments of modern petroleum industries, and the subsequent development and expansion of these industries are certainly among the significant success stories of this generation. Another significant development observed in this generation is the development and change in the environmental front, first observed in America then Western Europe in between late 1960 and early 1970’s. The environmental front poses unprecedented threats and challenges to the petroleum industry.
Exploration and extraction of petroleum causes detrimental impacts on water, soil, ecosystems, and is a prime cause of global warming, which continues to be a global climatic threat (ISLAM, CHHETRI, and KHAN, 2011). These impacts arise from the machines used in extraction, improper disposal of massive volumes of saline water that is produced together with oil and gas, hydrocarbon and water releases, and abandoned or improperly plugged oil wells (BJØRLYKKE and AVSETH, 2010). This trend is not expected to end any time soon as most economies massively depend on petroleum products for development. A report released by EIA in 2004, forecasts that by 2025 global petroleum use will have increased by 40% to 28.3 million bbl per day or an estimated 31.4 tfc per year. This implies continued depletion of environment if the available resource is to meet the increasing global demand.
Petroleum exploration is a process that involves a survey and discovery of oil and gas resource from the earth’s sedimentary basins (SHOJAI, 1995). The process relies on a methodical application of geoscientists’ technology, which leads to viable prospects for drilling of these prospects and appraisal wells. GAO (1998) notes that like any other process of buying stocks, the process of oil and gas exploration involves a series of decisions, which are made under uncertainties. The process is carried under a series of activities that include seismic surveys, exploration and appraisal, and development and production.
Loss of control and lack of adherence to environmental policies provided under by the EIA increases the potential of the process to impact adversely to environment. It is the oil spillages and blow outs that draw the highest levels of concerns from their degree of damage and acute effects on the environment (MARKANDYA, 2001). Additionally, it is observes that the potential for environmental damage increases in the production phase as this comprises recovery and release of hydrocarbons (BJØRLYKKE and AVSETH, 2010).
During the seismic phase chemical explosives, vessel transits, and air gun discharges are among the environmental disturbance factors observed. The effects of these activities include displacement and loss of biota like aqua life and wildlife, loss of fishing gear, and displacement of aquatic life (BARRY, 2008). Most of the impacts are felt during the drilling process where there are lots of discharges to land, air and water. Such discharge comes inform of liquid and fine solids, which impact on air, water and land (MEASHAM and LOCKIE, 2012). Additionally, the process involves a lot of noise, and is considered among the highest ranked sound pollutants. These impacts on visibility and interferes with activities such as fishing, farming, air transport, and shipping (WATHERN, 2002). Drilling also interferes with land production due to increased soil acidity levels, which decreases agricultural productivity levels. The solid particles and dust released also pollutes the atmosphere leading to deterioration of human health due to lack of enough oxygen (KUTZ and ELKAMEL, 2010). The process is also a nuisance for inhabitants as well as animals due to the noise produced by the explosives.
The most common method of obtaining petroleum products is extracting it from wells. After the location of a well during the seismic survey, a variety of methods are used to recover the product. The EIA advocates for two steps; primary recovery and secondary recovery stage (BARRY, 2008). During the primary recovery stage, the product is elevated to the surface by an underground pressure. This generates at about 20% of the available oil. After the pressure is depleted to a point that oil is no longer brought to the surface, the secondary recovery option is implemented. The latter draws at least 5-10% of the remaining oil and brings it up to the surface. When the two recovery means seem no longer viable, a tertiary recovery method is used (GONZALEZ, 2009). This method reduces the viscosity of petroleum so that the remaining bits are brought up to the surface.
Crude oil is made of toxins and different organic compounds. When subjected to high levels of pressure, Nitrogen is produced. This gas has a high affinity to oxidize when exposed forming Nitrous Oxides. This compounds mix with Sulfur Dioxides from the oil, and water in the atmosphere, and this results to acidic rain. According to ISLAM, CHHETRI, and KHAN (2011) this continues to be a global threat as its corrosion lead to destruction of soil fertility, machinery and structures, and damage of archaeological structures. Oceanic waters are also affected as the rains kill coral reefs damaging the banks, and destroying aquatic life (NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL U.S., 2001).
During the last decade, a majority of reports released by EIA and UNEP indicate that petroleum extraction is a key contributor to global climatic changes (SCHOLARLY EDITIONS, 2012). This is as a result of large amounts of Carbon Dioxide released during the process. The release of CO2 traps heat present on the earth’s atmosphere. Additionally, other organic compounds such as Methane present in the Hydrocarbons trap heat more efficiently as compared to CO2. These leads to soot formation, which blocks the sun from penetrating to the earth’s surface causing a cooling effect that change the climate (EDWARDS, 2006). The process also releases Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in the form of vapor or gases. The VOCs have both short and long run effects to both humans and the environment. Compounds such as Benzene are the key features in automobile exhaust, which blanket essential atmospheric compounds (SCHOLARLY EDITIONS, 2012).
PETROLEUM AND TRANSPORTATION.
The final products of exploration, extraction and refining of Hydrocarbons are fossil fuels, crude oil and petrol, and natural gas (KUTZ and ELKAMEL, 2010). Nearly every sector of every economy uses these products in a way or another. The transportation sector is the core user of the products, and also the highest ranked in environmental impacts of petroleum. The relationship between transportation and its impacts on the environment is dimensional. Some aspects about the relationship are known while others remain unknown. The foremost environmental aspect of transportation relate to the causes, activities, output, and the results of transport systems (GONZALEZ, 2009).
Establishing the linkages that exist between environmental dimensions has proved to be a challenge to most environmental organizations, as it may not be possible to determine the level or extent of the emissions that impact on the environment. For instance, it may not be possible to determine the extent of Carbon Monoxide emissions, which may link to land use (SHOJAI, 1995). Furthermore, transportation is embedded to environmental cycles, notably the Carbon cycle, and this poses a challenge as well as a threat in coming up with sustainable solutions (JUDD and HOVLAND, 2007).
The transportation sector is over 90 % dependent on oil. Land, water and air transport requires the products, making life efficient (UNITED STATES, 2004). However, the adverse impact of transportation on quality of life can be easily seen from the extent to which it harms the environment (GONZALEZ, 2009). Transport dirties the air, contaminates waters, guzzles energy and hastens climatic changes. The EPA attributes that over 64000 people die from air chronic diseases such as asthma, respiratory illnesses, heart disease, and lung failures, as a result of atmospheric pollution from transport (UNITED STATES, 2004). This is caused by release of hazardous exhausts such as Benzene and CO2 into the air blocking other gases such as Oxygen. The release of such compounds as Nitrogen, Sulfur Dioxide, and Carbon Monoxide into the atmosphere form smog and acidic rain (EDWARDS, 2006).
The environmental dimensions of transport are inclusive of climatic changes, air quality, water quality, land degradation, noise, and biodiversity. Other externalities include its impact on technology, and increased costs. Transport is also a prime source of water pollution. Oil spillages from moving machines runoff to roads, parking lots, and bridges lead to changes in water chemistry (JUDD and HOVLAND, 2007). This damages watersheds, beds and banks and also leads to death of aquatic life.
A report released by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007 indicated that the 1990-2000 was the hottest decade of the 20th Century. The report named CO2 as the largest contributor of the climatic change experienced during that decade (UNITED STATES, 2004). The transport industry releases millions of harmful gases such as Lead, Methane, Nitrogen Oxides, Nitrous Oxides, Silicon Tetraflouride, Chlorofluorocarbons, and Perfluoorocarbons, every year. Some of these gases participate in depletion of the Ozone layer blocking the penetration of sun rays into the earth’s surface, and global warming (KUTZ and ELKAMEL, 2010).
The complexity of the problem lies on the controversy in the role played by the transportation sector, and the need to observe the environmental policy (BARRY, 2008). The costs of environmental damage from the transportation sector are overlooked by many users in the sector, and this leads to worsening of the situation. Establishing environmental policies that will strike a balance between transportation benefits and environmental sustainability requires a consideration on the levels of contribution, and the geographical scale (MARKANDYA, 2001). Take an instance of policies advocating for construction of chimneys to release the hazardous compounds released during extraction, refining, and use of hydrocarbons; if adequacy in observation of environmental sustainability measures is enforced such measures go beyond environmental conservation. On the other hand, the chimneys solve the problem of landfills, and water pollution.
The continued dependency on petroleum in a global perspective may not end any time soon. The dilemma lies in the quest to observe environmental sustainability and growth and development. There lacks sufficient policies to guard against environmental degradation. Most of the policies brought forward by EPA, EIA, UNEP, among other environmental conservative organizations have failed. There lacks proper implementation to safeguard the impacts of petroleum exploration, extraction and transportation on the environment (ISLAM, CHHETRI, and KHAN, 2011). The debate on which sector should be prioritized continues to reign between environmentalists and industrialists. However, as the debate continues, the fact of the matter still remains to be observed and felt. Most economies producing petroleum products continue to suffer increased costs of environment conservation while suffering the impacts of climatic changes.
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