Updated: Jul 18, 2021
Driving, cruising, flying, and even biking all have one very important element in common: the use of fuel, otherwise known as oil. We use oil in multiple forms, many times a day without recognizing the habitual sacrifice that is made to provide this highly valued and extremely important natural resource. The abundance and availability of oil underneath the Earth's surface make it the most convenient business and economic venture possible. However, in the process, millions of natural habitats and marine ecosystems are heavily impacted and upended while drilling in locations close to or in massive oceanic habitats.
The intersection of oil drilling and marine life comes through the use of the oil drilling method known as offshore drilling. This form of oil drilling has proven to be extremely dangerous and threatening to natural habitats and marine wildlife. The drilling is commonly done through means of extraction from seabeds as opposed to mainland reserves. As challenging and threatening this form of drilling is, it has lead to immense popularity due to the increased demand of oil all around the world. In 2020, global production of oil skyrocketed to over 88.4 million barrels per day. Drilling and mining companies have built facilities as large as skyscrapers, reaching depths of nearly 1220 meters below the surface. For as many pros that have been discovered for this form of mining comes that many economic and environmental cons.
When it comes to this form of drilling, environmental impacts soar. One large and highly alarming problem is the consistent and seemingly repetitive occurrence of oil spills taking place. Each year, over 880,000 gallons worth of oil are sent to the ocean from North American offshore oil drilling platforms during normal operations. During storms and hurricane seasons, however, oil stations left in the middle of the ocean are damaged. During Hurricane Katrina, eight million gallons of oil, one of the largest in history, was released. Since 1969, there have been at least forty-four large oil spills (over 10,000 barrels of oil each) in our marine waterways. Using this statistic, we can expect a spill of over 10,000 barrels, or 420,000 gallons, of oil every 13 months. These spills wash up beaches, kill fish, and release deadly toxins and thick spreads of oil into the habitats of beloved creatures. These spills also affect the economic gains of recreational and profitable fishing businesses. For the sake of oil mining, the damage that is created to all other forms of life will most likely permanently damage many ecosystems.
In 2016, President Obama permanently ended oil and gas leasing in parts of the Atlantic and Arctic oceans. The move was hailed as a legacy-making decision. However in April 2017, President Trump issued an executive order in order to roll back these protections. Additionally, in January 2018, then U.S. Department of the Interior secretary Ryan Zinke structured the first steps to tear up the Obama administration’s five-year oil and gas leasing program. Zinke proposed to open up nearly all federal waters to destructive and dangerous oil and gas extraction from the most pristine areas of the Arctic to the economically important southeastern coast.
Oil pollution has also been a large contributor to the environmental damage that has occurred in our marine ecosystems. A 2019 study found that offshore oil and gas platforms in the North Sea were releasing twice as much methane than was reported, with a median release of 6.8 grams of methane per second per offshore platform. The emission of air pollution is heavily prevalent in these large refineries and offshore rigs as well. 37% more greenhouse gas emissions are released through lower quality crude oil than higher. Additionally, Petroleum refineries are a major source of hazardous and toxic air pollutants such as BTEX compounds (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene).
Emissions into the water directly impact marine life that depend on water to survive. Wastewater in refineries may be highly contaminated given the number of sources it can come into contact with during the refinery process (such as equipment leaks and spills and the desalting of crude oil). This is the same water that many marine animals use to live and survive, which may contain oil residuals and many other hazardous wastes.
While we continue to manufacture and produce goods, fly large planes, and drive cross country road trips, we must remember what is being sacrificed in order to help us do so: hundreds of thousands of wildlife and marine habitats. While our economy will inevitably expand and prosper, our generation needs to raise awareness and inspire the future of carbon and greenhouse emissions to become more sustainable. Otherwise, our nation will be heading towards a darker, more dangerous path. Both for us, as consumers and producers, and our beloved wildlife who deserve to flourish in their respective environments.