Oil: Problems & Solutions
The current state of oil is certainly both storied and tumultuous. Once advertised as the once and future energy solution, oil is no longer a trusted resource. Many different factors contribute to the crisis including natural and human concerns. Oil creates pollutants that destroy our precious atmosphere, and uncontained spill wreak havoc on our oceans. In addition, oil is used as political platforms in many third-world nations, causing turmoil amongst factions. But there is a hope; the solution is alternative energy sources. Scientists have discovered alternatives for consumable energy and steps are being taken to ensure implementation for the next generation. While our current state relies completely on oil to power us, we can be assured of a continued contingency to provide a better, cleaner solution for our children.
Oil: The Environmental Problem
• What is Crude Oil?
Crude oil is a liquid that occurs naturally beneath the Earth’s surface. It is flammable and contains a mix of hydrocarbons and other organic matter, like the remains of dead animals and plants. The idea of a flammable material being pulled from the Earth is a good indication of how bad it is for the environment above.
• What is its Composition?
Petroleum (Crude Oil) can contain many liquid, solid, gaseous hydrocarbons. Depending on the conditions (temperature, pressure), methane, ethane, propane and butane (the lighter substances) will be in gaseous form. Other times, heavier substances like pentane, hexane, and heptane will become gaseous. The proportions of these gases differ in weight amongst the different types of oil and will condense at the surface which will make them resemble petrol.
The number of hydrocarbon molecules in each type of oil determines the color and viscosity.
• Classification of oil.
Oil is classified by the geographical location, API gravity, and sulfur content. Light API is low density and heavy API has a high density. The term “sweet” is used for oil with a low sulfur content while “sour” describes a high sulfur content. The geographical location of the given oil well determines the cost for transporting the oil to the refinery. The above explanation into crude oil gives us a better understanding as to why something that has become so useful is so potentially dangerous to the environment.
Extracting and Recovery
• Primary Recovery
This uses natural means like water that displaces oil, expansion of gases within the oil and gravity drainage. This yields roughly 5% to 15% of the oil below.
• Secondary Recovery
When the natural pressure drops then various tools are used to increase pressure. Certain pumps are used to bring oil out of the reservoir while others are used to inject water, gas, or even air to bring the oil to the surface. This allows between 30% and 50% of the oil to be recovered.
• Tertiary Recovery
This method is used to heat the crude oil making the recovery process possible again. This only recovers another 5% to 15% of the oil. This process has to be done carefully considering oil’s flammability. This can be seen as yet another reason to seek alternative energy sources.
• Refining of Crude Oil
Once the oil has been recovered and transported to the refinery it can now be processed into useful petroleum products. If tearing up the land for an oil well is not enough proof then looking into the oil refineries should prove, without a doubt, the negative impact of oil on the environment. Oil refineries can be considered as a type of chemical plant due to the chemicals used to process the oil. These refineries also pump poisonous gases into the atmosphere and the threat of fires, spills or leaks at the refineries puts the wildlife and water supply in jeopardy.
|Uses of Crude Oil|
The above section explains the process of getting oil and shows the problems that could and have happened to pollute the environment. The process of refining crude oil uses a great deal of energy. Maintaining a refinery is just as costly.
Oil spills are not all the same because not all oil is the same. Each spill will have a different effect on wildlife and the environment based on certain factors.
Mainly crude oil is the enemy that pollutes, but even oils like vegetable oil can be a pollutant whether its spill outside, or a container with oil is thrown in the trash and/or makes its way to the landfill or sea.
|Aerial of Oil Spill|
• Location of the spill.
If an oil spill happens on land the runoff of that oil can severely damage, crops, livestock, and even what is left on land can eventually seep into the ocean. If the oil is spilled at sea it can be even more drastic as ocean currents, winds, or storms can cause the oil to spread like a cancer hurting and killing marine life.
• Types of animal life in the vicinity.
Many endangered species have nearly been wiped out from oil spills. Farms that have livestock can be affected. Plants, animals, and even humans can become sick or worse from contaminated water supplies. Birds can be affected the easiest as they can be on land or on the water just off shore.
• Breeding cycles and migrations.
Oil spills can drastically alter the breeding cycles and migration patterns of certain animals as well. Unborn animals can be killed, and their mothers unable to breed. Migrations are hindered causing changes in breeding patterns and feeding areas.
• Weather during the spill?
As stated earlier, oil spills can spread even more from storm winds and rain. Rain can cause an oil spill on land to spread and even soak into the soil easier. In the ocean strong winds or storms can increase the spread of the spilled oil.
Another area to cover is that of used oil. There are different criteria the EPA uses to identify used oil, such as determining if it has been contaminated. Even the contamination of oil has its own criteria to meet.
• Origin of used oil.
Used oil, according to the EPA, is any oil refined from crude oil or from synthetic materials.
• What was the used oil used for?
How oil is used is how the EPA determines if an oil is considered used oil. Lubricants, hydraulic fluids, buoyants or other oils used for similar purposes are considered used. Virgin oil (unused oil) from fuel storage tanks or recovered from an oil spill are not labeled as used either. Any petroleum products used as a solvent or cleaning agent, even antifreeze and kerosene are also not on the list.
• How has the used oil been contaminated?
If the oil is contaminated with residues from handling the oil, metal shavings, sawdust, dirt, solvents, halogens, or saltwater it is considered used oil.
One solution to help in reducing oil pollution while striving to get rid of oil dependency is simply recycling used oil. The process takes up one third of the total amount of energy used to refine crude oil. It is energy efficient and takes the burden off of the environment. his process improves the quality of life for plants, animals, and us as well.
The use for oil will sadly be around for some time to come. This industry is engrained in our daily lives. We should not let that fact hinder our progression towards a world free of fossil fuels and a healthier environment. Instead, the people of the world should take this as a new challenge that will bring us all together for one common cause, the life and stability of our very own ecosystem.
Oil: The Human Problem
Not Just the Environment
“Thirty percent of the world's newly discovered oil reserves come from Africa's west coast. But in the serpentine creeks and boggy coast lie daunting obstacles to the promise of oil revenue — pirates, corruption, violent youth militias, and environmental catastrophes”.
We are all well aware of problems oil creates with the environment. Every day we hear news casts and paper headlines detailing some horrible fate for mankind in an oil-dependent world. Continue this route, they say, and eventually we will wind up destitute in an apocalyptic world. The conclusion or assumption rather, reached is that it will create enough problems to negatively impact humans. Plants die, the ozone is destroyed, food resources become scarce, and other catastrophic tendencies would follow suite. However, nothing can bring about hostility faster than the politics that control oil.
|Oil Production in Africa|
Whenever we speak of oil naturally decaying the environment, whether through pollution, scientists like to use large figures and ambiguous dates. They say things like “If we use 400 billion gallons of oil a day per year, then in 240 years we will have completely choked off our oil reserves”. Nothing about that sentence, while daunting, seems to demand a need for change. The way our current world is set up is contingent on the use of oil. I am reminded of the facts we hear from scientists that speak of the sun burning out in some hundreds or thousands of years; inevitability humankind can do nothing to avoid it. However, the oil problem is more than that. It is no longer simply an environmental problem that must be dealt with purely at that level. We can continue to improve the cleaning and distribution of oil, making it more synthetic and, thus, diminishing its impact on global pollution. We can continue to increase a “green” themed global economy working towards limiting our uses. But we cannot confuse solutions of an environmental nature with solving the oil problem.
The underlying factor to these problems is the rate at which they occur. While we can point to facts in nature stating that pollution will diminish the planet’s resource in 100 years, we cannot bring about facts of the human nature. And this for a variety of reasons; Humans are complex and spontaneous, with no predictable path of choices. Several regions in the world suffer from debilitating tug-of-wars with their governments. The country of Guinea is one such country. Current regulations of oil price and production create rippling effects across the nation. Political economists state the climate is in dire need for change: “The very volatile nature of oil markets since 1971 suggests that future fluctuations are likely and that they may prove dangerous for Equatorial Guinea in the future unless the country's leaders can adopt effective policies to counter these effects”. This is one example. Many African countries have intertwined their oil with their own governments, leaving the two conjoined. What’s worse is the United States’ hand in the political turmoil. The higher the demand—the more likely
Needless to say politics contributes to a plethora of problems. In addition, many oil reserves center on the Middle East and northern Africa, a conflicted area to say the least, thus the reality of government-caused oil problems is a threat. We may think that the region is halfway across the globe and has little effect on the global scale, but such is not the case. Rather, the strain that the region places on the world instantly affects everything from the world economy to local gas prices. This year has shown plenty of examples of that region’s impact on oil worldwide. The regime change in Egypt and the tumultuous atmosphere in Libya affected both production and price of oil resources. Though Libya may be small in geographical size, it is the largest supplier to Europe and the second largest to Africa. The rising prices of gasoline in the United States are also, if not minutely, affected by the Libyan crisis. While the crisis may be small now, it will only get worse in the future. Economists predict by the year 2015 25% of the United States’ oil reserves will come from Africa, compared to the 10% today. If gas prices increase by a dollar at 10% share with Africa, can we assume an increase of $2.50 for a 25% share? Every conflict results in a mini-crisis in the oil industry, and, as it will no doubt always, the shakiness of its politics grows.
The Need for an Alternative
|Oil Reserves Around the World|
How can we contain this growing threat? Oil, while a natural resource, is often controlled by the country whose land mass sits atop. This makes sense from a geographical standpoint. From history, we have seen battles and wars arise over a land’s resources. Unnecessary bloodshed and loss of life have occurred over one country’s inability to trade resources with another’s; and this lies ultimately in the leader of each country. This is another point where human inconsistency plagues the future of this resource. The “freedom” by which this precious resource is traded to a local or global community is completely dependent on the current leader of a nation and how much that person is willing to trade. However, this is not just a global economic issue. There have been instances where a leader will withhold oil resources from their own land, simply to prove their authoritarian power. To think that one can withhold a natural resource hostage, as if it was a concession prize they earned for their power, is a terrible reality that several countries in Africa face on a ruler-to-ruler basis. Oil has been seized across the global either as a chip to sweeten a deal, or a pawn to overthrow a country in such excess it is no longer a viable option to remain as dependent as we are on oil.
The reality is we can no longer count on oil in our distant, or even immediate, future. While it is a very powerful resource it is a double-sided coin; one side reflects a mass detriment to nature, the other to humankind from a political standpoint. We must look for alternatives as if our lives depend on it; because ultimately, they do.
It is not uncommon today for someone to grow up in this world without seeing a photo or hearing a news story about oil pollution. Oil spills, leaks, dumps, fires, all occur too often. The use of fossils fuels such as oil has taken in its toll on our environment. Unfortunately the entire world has become dependent on oil and its uses. There are people who actively protest against oil by taking part in gas outs (where no one buys gas for a day), riding a bike, carpooling, and or using public transportation.
The effects of oil go beyond the pollutants from combustion engines. Extracting, and refining oil also cause problems for the environment. To get a full understanding of the damages that oil has, this section will cover oil from what it is, to the process of getting it. Further in this section will also talk of the effects on the environment and ways of recycling used oil.
Alternatives to Oil
It is very surprising that oil still dominates in our society. There are so many alternatives available for us to take advantage of and to implement. Some alternatives have more benefits than others, some have more negatives, but in the end the advantages outweigh oil and fossil fuels in general. The four alternatives that we will focus on are the following:
• Solar Energy
• Hydroelectric Energy
• Wind Energy
• Biomass Energy
Oil is present in items that are quite surprising such as camera film, petroleum jelly, etc. Currently the use of oil is used approximately in the following sectors: Transportation, Industrial, Residential, Commercial, and Electric Power.
|Oil Production, at a glance|
The largest sector in which oil is used for is transportation. By eliminating oil consumption not only will the environment benefit, but our society will benefit. High oil prices will longer be a major concern for Americans. Alternatives can replace oil. They may not completely remove oil in modern society, but they can certainly take over a large portion of the sectors. Moving forward is the first step in making the United States a more dependent and economically stable country.
Solar energy provides less than .1 percent of the electricity produced in the United States. The cost of solar energy may have seemed expensive in the past, but with the rapidly high prices of fossil fuels, expanding the use of solar energy is a smart idea. If the United States focuses on solar technology and improving and experimenting with the sun, we can use solar energy to its fullest capacity. The benefits of solar energy are as followed:
• There is no waste
• It is renewable
• Reliable source of energy during the day
• Lowers cost of energy bills
• Can get government tax credits
• Not necessary to be on the grid
• very few moving parts, there would be less breakdowns, repairs, or maintenance problems
Solar energy is renewable, it will never run out, and it is environmental friendly. It may take some time to implement in society, but it can be a reliable resource. We will not have to borrow or pay a fee from other countries. We can harvest it in our own frontier. There are boats and cars that are currently solar power run, and if Americans experiment further we can improve technology and expand production of solar generated cars. This in return, could produce more jobs and opportunities to improve our economy.
Hydroelectric energy makes up 19% of the world’s electricity. China currently is the highest producer of hydroelectricity. The United States is the fourth largest producer of hydroelectric energy with seven percent. Hydroelectric energy takes a lot of construction, time, land, water, and money. Why don’t we solely use hydroelectricity? Building small-scale hydro plants in each community could be highly beneficial if the land and money could be found. The following are the benefits for hydroelectric energy:
• It is very costly to build the damn, but it can serve two different purposes: flood control or irrigation. Thus, the cost of building can be shared.
• It is a renewable source of energy
• Prevents flooding
Waves have a lot of energy. According to the U.S Energy Information Administration, It's estimated that the total potential off the coast of the United States has about 252 billion kilowatt-hours a year, which is about 7% of the United States' electricity consumption in 2008. The west coasts of the United States and Europe and the coasts of Japan and New Zealand are good sites for harnessing wave energy.
Tidal power is another option. It is more predictable than wind energy and solar power. It has a large enough tidal range around 10 feet, which can produce tidal energy economically. There are no tidal sites in the United States because there are few sites, but we should still utilize the few sites.
|Wind turbines at work|
In order to have wind power, there must be a wind farm. Wind is unpredictable, but when steady it can be a reliable source of energy. According to the US Department of Energy, wind energy is one of the lowest-priced renewable energy technologies available today, costing between 4 and 6 cents per kilowatt-hour, depending upon the wind resource and project financing of the particular project. Furthermore, according to the US Department of Energy, by 2030, if we are 20% wind energy, natural gas prices would be lowered by 12%. Lease payments for wind turbines would generate over $600 million for landowners and it could generate local tax revenues which could exceed over $1.5 billion annually (if we are 20% wind power in 2030).
Here are the benefits of wind energy:
• Wind farms do not need any fuel
• Can be tourist attractions
• Benefits the economy of rural areas
• Can provide American’s with jobs and expand manufacturing
• The land beneath can be used for farming
• No waste or greenhouse gases
Biomass energy is the process of getting energy from “animal waste, agricultural crops, grains, wood, mill residues, forest and aquatic debris, to create a potent energy filled alcohol through the process of natural fermentation". Currently, there are many research projects involving biomass energy. It is projected that in 2012, an alternative gas that costs between $1.33-$1.44 per gallon may be available for the public. Biomass does have low emissions of certain gases, but it is renewable. It is a stable source of energy. How does it work for electricity? Biomass plants use both gas and steam turbines to generate electricity at a high efficiency rate of 60%. Some of the advantages according to the U.S. Department of Energy:
• Lower emissions of fossil fuels
• Ample supply; fuel recycles itself
• Less greenhouse gases-emits carbon dioxide
• Cheaper than extracting fossil fuels
Why Use Alternatives?
Using alternatives is helpful to the environment and to people in general. By using less oil, or perhaps even eliminating it—the people of America can benefit in multiple ways. People can save more. If we start by slowly integrating alternatives more into our daily lives, it will make a difference. Our planet is important. If we have available resources on our own soil, then we should utilize them and experiment. Overall, alternatives can not only change American’s lives, but they could change the world positively. There are many ways we can incorporate alternatives into our daily lives whether in our own households or out on the road. It can have an effect on:
• The cost American’s spend
• The environment and preserving it
• The economy
• Job opportunities
Hopefully, the United States will move forward toward change. Even with a low incorporation of alternatives, it can make a difference. Yes, there are some negatives of using the different alternatives listed. The main one is the large cost it would take to get the alternatives started and built. If America stops importing oil and focuses on spending money more appropriately to conserve our future, (the world), we can find a way to make improvements.