Petroleum exploration and distribution has significantly boosted countries that are rich in petroleum product. However, the complexity in petroleum exploration and drilling results to numerous detrimental ecological and environmental effects due to possibilities for errors and accidents as they have been witnessed around the world. Discharges of petroleum hydrocarbon and other petroleum-derived waste have resulted to environmental pollution and adverse human health effects that are believed to last for decades. A whole ecosystem can be disbanded due to contamination from petroleum. Petroleum production has been associated to environmental degradation and undesirable human health effects, but many oil-producing countries have developed strategies that would ensure sustainable risk mitigation as well as effective environmental protection.
Environmental Effects of Petroleum Exploration
Petroleum is normally usually associated to numerous aspects of the contemporary society due to its use in transport and heating in homes and in industries. Petroleum is a mixture of oil, natural gas, and semi-liquid sticky tar. Since petroleum is termed as the world’s leading fossil fuel, its ignition contributes significantly towards greenhouse gas emissions and, consequently, climate change ((Frumkin 431). Burning of huge amounts of petroleum increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which interferes with regulation of warmth, leading to climate change. Climate changes contribute indirectly to population displacement, poor malnutrition, and disagreement in sharing scarce resources.
High temperatures that result from burning of petroleum usually cause oxidation of nitrogen gas in the air to become nitrous oxides. When nitrous oxides mix with sulphur and water in the atmosphere, they form acid rain, which is destructive to plants and fish. Waste oil from vehicles contains impurities, such as benzene, which affect both soil and water. The runoff that carries waste oil ends up in rivers and oceans, causing death to fish and other aquatic life. Oil spillage usually occurs during transportation and is the most common form of environmental degradation resulting from bursting of pipes and leakages from tankers. Oil spills affects marine life, as seabirds that survive on the sea surface diminish their insulation abilities, making the vulnerable to fluctuating temperatures.
The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill contributed to a huge loss of aquatic life and destruction of environment around the region where the oil spill occurred. The long-term environmental impact created by the event cannot be determined, as oil is capable of sticking in a given environment for a considerable time. The oil spill affected the coastal estuaries and beaches, which are habitat for numerous plants and animals (Corn 7). Louisiana has lost a huge section of coastal lands due to oil spill, which also led to destruction of vegetation along the shores. Although burning is perceived as an appropriate way to respond to oil spill, burning can destroy plant roots in low water levels while the smoke coming from the oil can pollute the air.
Transportation and extraction of petroleum involve use of pipes made of metal, and such pipes are exposed through corrosion. Corrosion can result to rupture of pipes, which contaminates soil and water. Exploration of petroleum leaves huge pits after exhausting the substance, leading to open pits that are hazardous to animals and humans, whereas topography and vegetation cover is destroyed due to human encroachment and project execution. The dust particles from the drilling sites inhibit vegetation growth within the surrounding area.
Niger Delta has experienced environmental degradation due to bulk of petroleum resources found in the region. A major environmental issue in the Nile Delta after the discovery of oil in the area was poor disposal of large chunk of waste oil, and discharge from operation machinery, leading to destruction of mangrove swamps and rain forests (Ikelegbe 267). According to the World Bank, gas flaring, which is also a common occurrence in Niger Delta, has contributed in global warming, as too much carbon has been released into the atmosphere. Although local people have suffered from environmental degradation resulting from exploration of petroleum, environmental awareness has been on the increase as the government has already compensated some of the communities that have remained in the area since the beginning of the exploration.
As the demand for petroleum products swell, more explorations have to be made to meet the rising demand. The Royal Dutch Shell, together with other oil companies, is planning to start drilling oil at the Alaskan Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), raising concerns of major oil spill in the area. According to Schmidt, many environmentalists are apprehensive of industrial drilling operations, which could interfere with the region’s wildlife, and particularly bowhead whales. If the drilling has to start, Alaskan Native population, which rely on marine mammals for food, is likely to be affected, since the mammals would be driven farther offshore to evade boat traffic.
Health Effects of Petroleum Drilling
Petroleum exploration has become a health hazard to communities that live near the shores where oil fields are located. Petroleum is usually drilled in seas and oceans; hence, the possibility of mixing unrefined petroleum with water is extremely high. In addition, petroleum is extracted from a mixture that incorporates water, and such water usually contains minerals such as mercury, lead, cadmium, zinc, and copper. These metals contain toxic materials that are harmful to humans, as well as animals, even when consumed in minute quantity. Fossil fuels are responsible for increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which, in turn, contribute to climate change. Change in climate results to heat-related illnesses, respiratory diseases, rise in waterborne and allergic illnesses, as well as extreme weather conditions, such as floods (Frumkin 432).
Communities that live in areas that are rich in petroleum products will continue to risk their lives as long as they continue to rely on their toxic lands and seawaters for their survival. Countries that depend on petroleum production to support their economy may suffer resource war, leading to public health problems. When the government fails to invest in public health, citizens suffer from lack of adequate health care facilities. Feeding on fish that have been consuming toxic substances from contaminated water would increase the risks of dying from harmful chemicals and metals. Thus, the food chain is usually broken by oil spillage and exploration, leading to loss of ecosystem.
Oil spillage has been blamed for causing air pollution around regions that harbor petroleum exploration (Dey et al 2). Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill exposed people living around the region to breathing problems, as well as acute toxic effects. Environmental pollutants resulting from oil spillage contribute to numerous respiratory problems, which include asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), among other respiratory ailments. Children who reside in regions that have encountered oil spillage usually experience symptoms of respiratory illnesses due to higher levels of sulphur dioxide (SO2) as well as nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollutants in their surroundings. The possibility of having psychological problems due to indirect contact to oil spills is quite high, as people living along the shoreline that was affected by oil spill experienced distress and trauma due to exposure to disaster, as well as loss of economic activities.
Oil spills also affected cleanup workers, who were employed to reverse the damage caused by oil spills. Most of the cleanup workers were found to experience decline in lung functioning, mucus membrane irritation, and poor respiratory system, due to exposure to petroleum products (Frumkin 429). In addition, transportation of petroleum to international market through sea-borne tankers and pipelines also create health risks through spillage. Long-term health effects resulting from petroleum production include lung diseases, kidney damage, nervous system breakdown, brain damage, miscarriages, as well as numerous disturbing chronic conditions.
Petroleum industry activities have been associated with widespread environmental degradation and threat to human health due to spillage and air pollution. As the need for petroleum products increases, countries that possess large potential for petroleum production have continued to invest on expansive exploration, which also increases threat to both environment and humans. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has played a major role in protecting humans from effects petroleum production in addition to preventing environmental degradation resulting from oil spills and waste oil. Each subsidiary company that contemplates on petroleum exploration is required to have a contingency plan that analyzes the sensitivity of surrounding area for potential risks, in addition to having a regulatory framework based on available resources (Bret-Rouzaut and Babusiaux 283). Identifying regions that have experienced oil spillage and enhancing mitigation strategies can offer a proactive measure in managing future impacts of petroleum to environment and general health.
Bret-Rouzaut, Nadine, and Denis Babusiaux. Oil and Gas Exploration and Production: Reserves, Costs, Contracts. Paris: Editions Technip, 2011. Print.
Corn, M L. Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: Coastal Wetland and Wildlife Impacts and Response. S.l.: Diane Publishing Co., 2010. Print.
Dey, Tapan, et al. “Role Of Environmental Pollutants In Liver Physiology: Special References To Peoples Living In The Oil Drilling Sites Of Assam.” Plos ONE 10.4 (2015): 1-9. Academic Search Premier. Web. 18 Sept. 2015.
Frumkin, Howard. Environmental Health: From Global to Local. San Francisco, Calif: Jossey-Bass, 2013. Internet resource.
Schmidt, Charles W. “Oil Drilling Environmental Health Concerns.” The Encyclopedia of Earth, November 29, 2014. Web. 18 September 2015. http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/51cbf0cb7896bb431f6a3103/