Petroleum is an energy resource which we obtain from the ground. It is flammable, thick, and can be in colors which range from yellow to black. This substance is a mixture of various solid, liquid, and gaseous hydrocarbons which can then be processed into a variety of materials. Refinement can turn it into gasoline, paraffin wax, and asphalt, along with thousands of other derivative products.
The word “petroleum” comes from a combination of Latin words which mean “rock oil.” There are several different classifications of this substance based on the location where it is obtained, the relative weight of it, or its viscosity. This process is how we get crude that is either light, intermediate, or heavy.
Because petroleum can also contain high levels of sulfur, an additional classification of either sweet or sour is possible based on how much it contains.
This resource provides us with the energy resources we require each day while offering the hydrocarbon foundation for many everyday products. At the same time, our consumption of this fossil fuel could be a partial contribution to climate change.
List of the Pros of Petroleum
1. Petroleum offers a stable energy resource for a variety of needs.
Although we have only learned how to refine petroleum in recent generations, ancient humans were aware of this energy resource. They would caulk their ships with asphalt as far back as the 40th century BC. The hydrocarbons were used for medical purposes. The Chinese culture learned that the substance could provide light and heat, using bamboo plumbing as a way to bring it into their homes.
Our use of petroleum may have evolved over the years, but its usefulness has never changed. The amount of energy we receive through the combustion of this fossil fuel is stable and consistent. We can predict achievable outcomes based on the quality that comes from beneath the surface.
2. Petroleum is what we use to create renewable energy resources.
Solar energy is one of the most exciting frontiers of science because the sun provides enough resources every day to power the current needs of our planet for an entire year. If we want to create the photovoltaic panels that are necessary to harvest this resource, then we must have petroleum available for the manufacturing process. It requires more than 100L of petroleum to create a single panel, which means each one requires two years of service to repay the carbon investment.
Renewable energy resources might produce fewer emissions than the regular consumption of fossil fuels, but we would not have that option in the first place if we did not have petroleum to use.
3. Petroleum provides us with a fuel which contains a high-density rating.
When we create energy from a specific resource, then there is a measurement ratio which evaluates how much we receive. Petroleum has one of the highest ratings possible for a fossil fuel at 1:10,000 without releasing particles into the atmosphere. Although nuclear power is much higher with its rating, there is not the same threat of fallout or radiation when consuming this natural resource.
Because the hydrocarbons are of such an intense density level, we can turn petroleum into a variety of different fuels, consumables, and other various products. That is why it is such a valuable commodity that we consume by the millions of barrels every day.
4. Petroleum is easily extracted and affordable to obtain.
When we start hunting for new petroleum resources, then experts begin to look at untapped rock strata to see what might be lying beneath the surface. We then drill into this layer of rock, which creates enough pressure to force the liquid upward. Hydraulic fracturing can encourage a complete release of the reserves as well, allowing us to obtain deep wells that give us the energy we need for everyday needs.
The technologies we use today to obtain petroleum allow us to drill through the surface of the ocean too to extract what is needed. Unless the price per barrel of this commodity drops below $30, it is an affordable energy resource that we can access at almost any time with today’s technologies.
5. Petroleum is the foundation of our society.
The infrastructures that we have across all industries and segments of society are based on how we use petroleum. By using this fuel for our daily requirements, we avoid the environmental costs of implementing new systems. There will always be some emissions that are concerning from the combustion of these fuels, so the time it would take to make up the difference between an investment in renewables and what our habits are today could be immense. That is why a slow, steady approach with a gradual transition to more renewable energy resources is the favored path to take.
6. Petroleum supports millions of jobs around the world.
The petroleum industry supports millions of employment opportunities around the world. Almost every job on our planet is connected to this energy resource in some way. If you use plastics in your employment, then you can thank this commodity. Driving to and from your employer happens thanks to fuel refined from petroleum – including people who drive electric vehicles. Soap products, computers, heating and cooling needs, and many other items that we take for granted every day are available because of this industry.
7. Petroleum offers numerous usage opportunities.
Gasoline is arguably the most common way that we all use petroleum at some point during the day. We use this fuel to provide energy for our transportation requirements, heat for our homes, and even for the lights that we use to see at night. This product allows us to make asphalt and similar products that is useful for roadways, driveways, and sealants. Over 6,000 different products are currently manufactured thanks to the petroleum industry and how it can manipulate hydrocarbons, and more is being added to that list every day.
8. Petroleum does not suffer energy loss during transportation.
There are some energy resources that we use today that can lose up to half of its potential during transportation. When we are taking petroleum to a refinery to become useful, it does not experience the same outcome. We can transport this commodity over hundreds of miles through pipeline systems without changing the usefulness of the product. Tanker ships can haul millions of gallons across the vast oceans of our planet in the same way.
This advantage makes it possible to access petroleum resources in remote locations for a minimal investment, and then transport it to where our population centers are for consumption.
9. Petroleum is useful as a medical product.
The Ancient Chinese may have been one of the first to look at petroleum as a useful medical option, but we are continuing to walk in their footsteps. Petroleum jelly has more than 20 different medical benefits to consider by itself. Some of the anesthetics that we use today come from this fossil fuel. Dentures and denture adhesive are sometimes made with petroleum products. We even produce antihistamines and cortisone from the hydrocarbons that producers harvest from beneath the surface of our planet.
There is an excellent chance that there is more than a dozen different items that were made with petroleum in your home right now. Even some of your clothing comes from this commodity.
10. Petroleum is available in different grades.
Every petroleum reservoir offers unique qualities that are usable by the industry in some way. When the product contains high levels of sulfur, then the carbon-rich coke is useful in the production of synthetic crude products. The Orinoco oil sands in Venezuela and the Canada oil sands region are both examples of this version of the commodity. Although this pet-coke emits up to 80% more carbon dioxide per unit of weight, the sulfur can be refined from it so that the product can meet emissions and consumption standards that are in place around the world.
11. Petroleum oil fields can go through a restoration process.
When an oil well is no longer an economic resource, then it is plugged so that it can no longer be used as a commodity. When this action occurs, then the area around the well can go through a restoration process. The land can be replenished, new plants and grasses made available, and even recreational trails installed. Many facilities can go through a complete renovation in 12 months or less to become useful in other ways.
This benefit applies to offshore oil rigs as well. Some of the older platforms have been toppled into the water, creating an artificial reef that can become a new habitat for marine life. In the reef-to-rigs program, it takes about one year for nature to begin reclaiming the item with clams, sponges, coral, and other creatures covering the structure. As more life comes to the recycled rig, it can increase fish populations, create new recreational fishing opportunities, and even become a spot for diving tourism.
12. Petroleum extract is a safe process.
Although there have been several devastating oil spills over the past 30 years, it is essential to note that most of these are accidents that occur during the transportation of the commodity or during its extraction. The actual process is safe to the workers and the environment when it works as intended. Even when there is an incident that occurs, such as the Deep Horizon drilling rig explosion in 2010, the industry does a complete review of procedures, regulations, and technologies to ensure the problem doesn’t happen again.
List of the Cons of Petroleum
1. Petroleum infrastructures require continuous maintenance to continue being useful.
There were over 138,000 tons of petroleum products spilled by the Sanchi oil tanker when it collided with another ship. Over 820,000 tons of petroleum were spilled into the Persian Gulf in the 1990s. Pipelines leak thousands of gallons of crude oil and other products headed for refinement each year. With the Exxon Valdez oil spill that occurred in Prince William Sound in 1989, over 37,000 metric tons of oil were spilled into the water, which was the equivalent of 260,000 barrels. More than 1,300 miles of shoreline were impacted by this event.
Although petroleum does not lose its energy potential when we transport it, our systems are imperfect. When a spill does occur, the amount that spills forth is more than what a local habitat can generally endure. That means the quality of the soil, animal habitats, and even our livelihoods can all be adversely impacted when something goes wrong.
2. Petroleum is responsible for many of our greenhouse gas emissions.
We know that carbon dioxide in our atmosphere works to reflect the heat back toward our planet after the sunlight bounces off of a surface. We also know that the consumption of petroleum products either directly or through the manufacturing cycle can increase the amount of this gas that we release.
We also know that when air is heated suddenly, it goes through an oxidation effect because of the nitrogen that is present. This circumstance creates nitrous oxide, which is also found in petroleum products in their natural state. Then this combination of factors works to change the pH balance of our atmosphere, creating the foundation for acidic precipitation. When that rainfall hits our habitats, homes, and communities, then it can negatively impact our way of life.
3. Petroleum has a value which is often exploited for political gain.
One could argue that many of the wars which were fought after 1950 around the world were because of access to petroleum. Even though there is an extensive export market for this commodity, the fortunes of governments rise and fall based on the available of this natural resource. If your country doesn’t have it, then your government may decide that your neighbor who is rich in it looks like an inviting target.
Because the wealth that petroleum brings can change lives dramatically, the loss of its value can destroy entire nations in a heartbeat. Many of the nations in the Middle East are working to diversify their economies by 2035 to reduce their reliance on this product. Many of the financial issues facing Venezuela in 2019 are due to unanticipated shifts in commodity pricing. Because there is such a reliance on this product, it is not unusual for politicians to take advantage of this fact to destabilize regions.
4. Petroleum exposure can be toxic.
Did you know that petroleum exposure can be a life-threatening incident to all life on our planet? The lethality levels of this product can occur in concentrations as low as 0.4% for some forms of marine life. Even humans experience this issue, as the benzene found in this commodity is a known carcinogen. People who work to harvest this product can experience a reduction in their white blood cell counts as well, which means they can become sicker faster and easier compared to the general population.
5. Petroleum changes the composition of our ocean waters.
When petroleum products come into contact with marine life, it is almost guaranteed that death will occur. Even in the best-case scenario, the commodity will impede the development or behavior of the life in question. This process can change the pH levels of the ocean, which further disrupts the chain of life in the water because of increased acidity levels. Over the past two centuries, the natural pH levels of our oceans have dropped by 25% to make the water more acidic.
Then the plastic products that we create from petroleum are a pollution hazard as well. Although we can harvest large items to turn them into parlay materials after the recycling process, microplastics are much more challenging to remove from the water. These small bits of plastic are swallowed by marine life, which then we harvest through the commercial fishing process and eat ourselves.
6. Petroleum is a substance that may not last forever.
The chances that we will run out of petroleum before the end of our children’s lifetime is possible. There have been dire warnings in the past about this disadvantage. As far back as 1914, the U.S. Bureau of Mines stated that the world would run out of oil in just 10 years. By 1939, that number had increased to 30 years. Now we’re looking at a 50-year window for this resource, with the potential to run out by 2050 to 2075.
Is it possible that we could find new resources to continue using petroleum as we do? Absolutely – we have spent a century defeating the deadlines that experts gave us with this commodity. The definition of a fossil fuel is that it is a finite product, so even if it doesn’t happen in the next few decades, there is an excellent chance that it could happen one day.
7. Petroleum consumption can trigger breathing problems in some people.
The consumption of petroleum products creates a higher chance of a breathing problem occurring for the individual exposed to the vapors or fumes. Even if you use a refined product for your energy requirements, the combustion process can create health issues with regular exposure. Some people can also develop an allergic reaction to this substance because we use hydrocarbons in many different products.
Potential allergy symptoms include a runny nose, watery eyes, itching in the throat and mouth, and skin irritation. If you encounter sneezing or wheezing, then this could indicate a more severe reaction is occurring. Swelling upon contact is possible as well, which can include the air passageways.
8. Petroleum can create excessive amounts of waste oil.
When there is waste oil present after the petroleum is used in some way, then it contains impurities which make it challenging to recycle the product. Transmission oil, brake fluid, synthetics, and other gear box or crankcase oils all create waste products as part of their regular service. Vehicles can even drip oil out of their engines while driving, creating problems with benzene entering the water chain. There are also volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, that can create waste problems when they enter indoor spaces.
One More Concern About the Pros and Cons of Petroleum
The problem that we have with petroleum and the products we either derive or refine from it are such an ever-present part of daily life that transitioning to different options is virtually impossible. Even with a desire to create 100% renewable energy resources on a nationwide level, there must still be an investment made using this fossil fuel. It will take time to transition to any new system, which means now is the time to consider how we might change.
The pros and cons of petroleum work to balance the energy we require while minimizing the damage we cause to the environment whenever possible. We are on a journey together to create the best possible planet for future generations. Whatever steps that we can take now to make it a better place will help our children and grandchildren have a chance to pursue the success they want.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Masters Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years. If you would like to reach out to contact Natalie, then go here to send her a message.