THE PROBLEM WITH PETROLEUM
Hey everyone! Now from the title you’ve probably guessed that I’ll be talking about petroleum today.
But what is petroleum? Well, it’s a general term referring to oil and natural gas.
Powering the majority of our electricity and heating, it accounts for over 60% of energy we use in Australia, while also being used to produce transportation fuels and plastics.
But while it has become such a fundamental part of our human lives, its extraction, transportation and use has a very real and dangerous effect on our Earth.
Keep reading as I’ll be covering these in a bit more detail below!
Extraction: Habitat Destruction
The problem with petroleum starts at the very beginning - extraction. Huge areas of land are cleared when creating roads, drilling sites and facilities for large-scale projects, often damaging wildland ecosystems irreversibly. The construction of fences and power lines further contributes to the fragmentation of many habitats. Not only this, but human movement, vehicle traffic and noise pollution at drilling sites can disrupt natural migration patterns, communication, breeding, and nesting cycles for various animal species that live in these areas.
Transportation: Oil Spills
Although these mostly occur as accidents while transporting oil via pipelines, ships, and trucks, oil spills contaminate soil and water in disastrous ways. You might remember BP's Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010, where oil spread across over 176,000 square kilometres of sea surface in the Gulf of Mexico. While this event has now been pushed to the back of most people's minds, its damaging effects on the marine ecosystem can be seen years later. Not only were underwater areas polluted, but over 1500 kilometres of shoreline was affected - threatening rare aquatic species such as the dwarf seahorse as well as numerous species of seabirds. Given such events, it’s no surprise that oil is viewed as such a huge threat to our marine ecosystem.
Use: Global Warming
Oil and natural gas are also types of fossil fuels, which means that they release even more impurities when burned in vehicles, power plants and industrial facilities. One of these impurities is carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, which when released into the atmosphere, traps heat, and contributes to the much dreaded phenomenon: global warming. The long term temperature and weather pattern shifts as a result of global warming has a multitude of disastrous implications. Ranging from rising sea levels and extreme weather events, to biodiversity loss and species extinction, global warming threatens our Earth and environment in ways that have never been seen before. And with 89% of global carbon dioxide emissions in 2018 acting as a result of burning fossil fuels and industry (IPCC) it’s increasingly evident why petroleum is a problem.
So to wrap it up, while petroleum has become such an ingrained and typical part of our lives, it's clear that we use it at the cost of our Earth's health. And with so many renewable energy source options, such as wind and solar, as well as more eco-friendly fuel sources such as bioethanol, it might just about be time for us to globally cut back on our petroleum use.