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Environmental Hazards as a Consequence of Crude Oil/Natural Gas Exploration, Transportation, Refining and Storage
Ever since crude oil was first successfully drilled in the U.S. In Titusville, Pennsylvania, in 1859, the demand for oil has only been increasing over the years in countries all over the world. (Camden, 1883) Crude oil, from which various petroleum products are obtained, is a naturally occurring hydrocarbon component found trapped in rocks below the earth. The word "petroleum" means "rock oil" or "oil from the earth." Natural gas is another form of hydrocarbon that is also found in nature. Both crude oil and natural gas have excellent combustibility and are good sources of energy. Crude oil is not used in the extracted form; but it is refined to obtained products such as gasoline, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), naphtha, kerosene, gas-oil and fuel oil. Secondary products during the purification of crude oil are obtained are lubricants, asphalt, perfumes and insecticides. There are, approximately, more than 4,000 different petrochemical products obtained from refining of crude oil that have commercial value. Plastics, synthetic fibers, synthetic rubbers, detergents and chemical fertilizers are some of the consumer products that are generated from crude oil. The proven crude oil reserves in the world are estimated to be approximately 1,074,850 million barrels and the consumption is estimated to be approximately 76 million barrels per day. The graph below indicates that consumption has only been increasing over the years all over the world.
Evaluate the topic
This study investigates the environmental hazards that are the resultant of the explorations, transportation, refining and storage of crude oil and refined products in countries all over the world. This study provides a holistic view of the effects of the petroleum industry. It is important to note that the petroleum industry is one where geographical boundaries and limits are generally inconsequential for the industry as a whole. For example, petroleum exploration might occur in one region but the use of the product might occur in another. The United States (19.7 million barrels per day) and Japan (5.5 million barrels per day) are two of the largest users of petroleum products, but the countries in the Middle East and Russia are the major producers. As a result, the crude oil or refined products have to be shifted from one region to another based on the supply and demand of the product.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Agency, International Energy Annual Report. (Rodrigue, 2004)
Petroleum products are probably the most commercially and domestically used form of energy source today. As a commodity of great strategic importance, petroleum has tremendous international bargaining leverage. Railroads and pipelines were built and developed to help transport the crude oil from the areas of production to the refineries. From electricity generation to transportation, petroleum products play crucial roles in today's social infrastructure. It is however important to note that the industry is not without its problems. One of the main issues in this industry is the increased environmental impact as a result of the various processes. The potential for the occurrence of extremely hazardous conditions from processes and stages such as the transportation of oil by marine vessels and the storage of large quantities of oil ishigh.
Analyze scope and purpose of the project
Environmental issues are becoming increasingly important for the petroleum industry. The petroleum industry has the potential to impact the global economy on amajor scale. The three sharp spikes (early 70s, late 70s and 1991) in oil prices observed over time-period of this industry have indicated just how dependent the world economy is on petroleum products. It is easy to correlate these price increases to the recessions that occurred in the U.S. And many world economies during these times. Countries therefore, in addition to investing heavily in the scouring of new petroleum reserves, are also looking for new ways to optimize the processes in their refineries. Increasing storage capacities is a major concern and a potential endeavor. This implies that countries have to build refineries to process the crude oil, support tank farms to store the crude oil before it is processed. Lastly, they have to store the finished products as well as develop shipping and land transportation (rails and roadways) to transport the oil from the supply point to the demand point. Issues such as global warming, fresh water pollution and spills on the high seas are however, forcing countries to reevaluate their strategies when dealing with the environmental issues related to this industry.
This study provides an overview of the logistics needed for this industry to survive over time. It is beyond the scope of any one study to investigate and study the impact of every variable that can affect the environment with regards the petroleum industry completely. Major environmental hazards are also identified for every stage on this supply chain: from the extraction of the oil to the final consumption of the products. Concerns over environmental safety and preservation have introduced the ISO 14000 standard for industries to implement. It has been established to provide organizations with guidelines for conducting environmental impact assessment, environmental management and auditing according to a recognized standard, to maintain integrity of the immediate biological and ecological environment and the global environment as well.
Understanding the conditions that create the potential problems is the first step in any environmental safety program. This step can help companies better prepare themselves for problems that they are likely to face in the future and look for ways to reduce the occurrence of the issue. For example, Tank farms can undertake periodic structural inspections and soil testing to ensure that no leakage occurs from the oil tanks. In addition, the management of tank farms can also introduce safety measures such as using impregnable oil fabrics in the dikes and design better catch basins ('bund' or 'drip tray' in the U.K.) in case of catastrophic tank failures.
Alternative approaches to the problem
The world needs oil to drive its economy. Until a viable option is identified, the dependence on oil is only expected to grow and increase. Consequently, the problems that can potentially arise will also increase. For example, until countries in North America and Western Europe decrease the greenhouse gases created due to the increase in oil consumptions or countries like China and India reduce their pollution levels by better optimizing their coal-fired electricity generators, the issue of environmental damage is a reality that the rest of the world will have to face. Environmental pollution is becoming a major concern during the various process-stages of the petroleum industry; finding ways to reduce the pollution levels is as important part of this industry at all the different stages.
The processing and purification of crude oil is a complex and expensive procedure. The wear and tear on equipment is also great. Continuous maintenance has to be performed on the entire system to ensure that failures do not occur. There are additional internal factors. For instance, the microenvironment of the oil-producing regions and countries within those regions need to be critically analyzed if this industry has to be optimized. Countries like the Netherlands and Sweden are increasingly looking for sustainable development of their energy industry. Sustainable development of the petroleum industry is gaining tremendous importance in recent time. Simply defined, sustainable development is "a simple idea of ensuring, through new lifestyles, a better quality of life for everyone, now and for generations to come." (UNESCO, 2003) The important resources that are at the forefront of any sustainable development are forests, water, minerals, gems, wildlife, air and the land, oceans, seas, rivers and lakes. The best alternative is for the world to identify a new source of energy. Until that time, organizations in the petroleum and crude oil industry will have to employ better environmental strategies to ensure that any damage is minimized.
Specific tasks that will be undertaken in this study
The following specific tasks will be undertaken in this study:
The various stages of the petroleum industry will be identified from the drilling of the crude oil to the consumption of the oil at the end use
The potential of environmental damages at these stages and the extent of the damages that can be inflicted on the system will be assessed and discussed
The extent of safety measures that can be used to help reduce the extent of damages to the environment
Practical recommendations and suggestions that can ensure the safety of the environment
Success and monitoring required to access the project process
Formulating an environmental project pertaining to the petroleum industry is ambitious task. The petroleum industry is complex and intricate. It spans different continents and different governments. International laws and regulations governing the transportation of crude oil and petroleum products are strict. These laws are also imposed stringently. Local regulations in individual countries however, are more open to compromise. In this environment therefore, companies and business through legislatures like ISO 14000 can be encouraged to adopted better business ethics and social consciousness in the execution of…[continue]
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