Environmental Problems of Oil Industry

INTRODUCTION Due to the very nature of oil resources, the environment is invariably affected. The first way in which the environment is affected by the oil industry is through both the drilling and the transportation processes. The chemicals used in the drilling can be harmful to the environment, drilling itself poses a great danger, for instance in case of an oil spill (as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill showed), and as the Exxon Valdez disaster so evidently portrayed, transportation can be equally as devastating to the environment. In addition to this, the actual burning of oil as a fuel creates havoc in the environment, contributing to already controversial problems such as global warming. Lastly, the remaining virgin forests and different species of animals are at risk as increasing pressure is applied by oil industry leaders pushing for new drilling in sensitive and once-protected regions. _ _ _

Water Pollution When we talk about oil industry the first source of water pollution that comes up is an oil spill. It may occur during the drilling process (which was the case of Gulf of Mexico), when it turned out to be the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry. The spill caused extensive damage to marine and wildlife habitats and to the Gulf's fishing and tourism industries. In January 2011 the White House oil spill commission released its final report on the causes of the oil spill. They blamed BP and its partners for making a series of cost-cutting decisions and the lack of a system to ensure well safety. The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill remains the justifiable example of how the transportation of oil can suddenly wreak a huge environmental and economic crisis.

Eleven million gallons of oil leaked, unstopped, from the ship when it hit rocks in 1989. Initial cleanup, by most reports, took three years and amounted to a cost of over $3 billion. And the sheer numbers of animals and birds destroyed were devastating. CLEANUP AND RECOVERY from an oil spill is difficult and depends upon many factors, including the type of oil spilled, the temperature of the water, and the types of shorelines and beaches involved. Methods for cleaning up include:

* Bioremediation: use of microorganisms or biological agents to break down or remove oil. * Bioremediation Accelerator: Whether applied on land or on water, this emulsion creates a bloom of local, indigenous, pre-existing, hydrocarbon-consuming bacteria. Those specific bacteria break down the hydrocarbons into water and carbon dioxide. * Controlled burning can effectively reduce the amount of oil in water, if done properly.

But it can only be done in low wind, and can cause air pollution. * Detergents: clustering around oil and allowing it to be carried away in the water. But the dispersed oil infiltrate into deeper water and can lethally contaminate coral. * Skimming: Requires calm waters.

* Solidifying: Solidifiers clean up oil spills by changing the physical state of spilled oil from liquid to a semi-solid or a rubber-like material that floats on water. * Vacuum and centrifuge: oil can be sucked up along with the water, and then a centrifuge can be used to separate the oil from the water - allowing a tanker to be filled with near pure oil. Usually, the water is returned to the sea, making the process more efficient, but allowing small amounts of oil to go back as well.

The history of oil and gas activities shows us that risk cannot be eliminated completely. Even under the strictest control such accidents as oil spills, pipeline leaks are likely to take place. Transportation of oil and gas implies risk. Containing or cleaning up an oil spill in sea remains difficult. Pollution cannot be reduced to zero. -------------------------------------------------

The Gulf of Mexico is the place with the world's best engineers and infrastructure for disaster recovery, including the navy, aviation, inspection equipment and the necessary production capacity. And even there it has proved extremely difficult to cope with the consequences. -------------------------------------------------

Toxicity of crude oil and its components is evident even in small concentrations. Even small amounts have a negative impact on flora and fauna. Excavation and drilling may cause significant harm to groundwater and drainage patterns, which in turn would lead to changes in vegetation and wildlife. Animals can be affected by the change in vegetation, noise or water. It may affect their habitat, food supplies, breeding. The nature of some regions (such as Arctic region) is very vulnerable and delicate. Even insignificant disturbances resulted from oil and gas activities may have a detrimental effect. And if we talk about such ecological disaster as oil spill, it could be a deadly blow to the sensitive environment and ecosystems which will need decades to recover.

Many oil and gas companies, especially in Russia, have an irrational approach to the use of subsurface resources. They got a low rate of oil extraction from fields and processing of associated natural gas. The lack of governmental legislative regulation and absence of such economic stimulus as tax discounts results in random oil extraction from the most productive reserves, and therefore leads to the non-recoverable loss of a part of the resources. As a result, new fields are developed and that in turn increases the environmental load in the concerned areas.

Outdated and inadequate hydrocarbons’ transportation system results in a high accident rate, which greatly increases the environmental risks. An increase in the number of pipeline accidents proves that the main pipelines are overloaded and in need of major renovation. When designing a new pipeline, working lifespan of these facilities is not regulated, which allows operator companies to use them endlessly, carrying out only minor upgrades.

The high level of environmental risk during oil tanker transportation is determined by the technical state of oil tankers and the lack of an effective control and monitoring system over their routes. Coordinated and binding routes should be defined for oil tankers in the Arctic shelf seas. These routes should be set at a sufficient distance from the shore, which would allow to avoid adverse impacts on coastal areas, the most valuable and vulnerable in terms of biodiversity. Distant oil transportation routes will prevent an immediate coastal contamination in case of oil spill and provide temporary advantage for the rescue teams.

Emergency response systems are also inadequate. Not all the countries can fulfill the Oil Spill Contingency Plans, because often the requirements are impossible to implement. The vessels are very old and outdated, as well as equipment for dealing with spills, emergency bases are located too far from potential accident spots. There is a lack of modern equipment to locate spills, and systems to predict the behaviour of spills and a deficit of means to deal with cleaning affected shore lines. Moreover, Oil Spill Contingency Plans should be improved and adapted to the specific regional conditions.

According to the Russian law on environmental preservation, all clean-up in case of an accident should be carried out by the polluting company, which also has to pay a fine for environmental damages and pay for the environmental reclamation work. But in fact ships often flee from the sight of an accident and hide oil leaks. But even if a company confesses its guilt, it often results in an everlasting court battle because oil operators would disagree on the amount of the fines.