It’s common knowledge that oil is a finite resource — once it disappears, it’s gone. Industry experts estimate the global oil supply will disappear by 2067 if we continue to consume oil at our present rate. Because of this and many other reasons, the United States desperately needs to reevaluate its relationship with oil.
As supplies become scarcer, the price of petroleum products will begin to rise. While fluctuations in price are normal based on economics and the stability of the countries that export oil, the general trend will increase over time as reserves are depleted. Working-class and lower-income Americans will be the first to face the hardships brought on by rising oil prices.
Petroleum products are used to fuel vehicles, to heat homes and to create synthetic materials including plastics. Once the cost of oil begins to rise, many of these affordable, daily amenities will reach a price point that is out of reach for those with a lower income.
To mitigate this, researchers can work to develop products or alternatives that aren’t reliant on petroleum and are derived from sustainable materials. Using renewable materials will ensure a continuous supply to meet demand and keep prices steady since the source materials won’t run out.
Dangerous Recovery Methods
New technologies including fracking and horizontal drilling are making it possible to extract oil from a wider range of locations. Additionally, oil companies are also able to recover oil from previously depleted sources as the new technology makes it possible to reach more difficult areas. Improved recovery, however, comes at a cost.
Drilling is a dangerous practice. Laborers work directly with heavy machinery on small platforms with highly combustible and ignitable material. On average, employees work 12-hour shifts for one- to two-week rotations isolated in remote areas. Despite in-place safety protocols and practices, accidents still happen.
Around this time last year, five workers were injured in an oil field accident in a small town in rural Kansas. Improper working conditions were cited as a possible cause of the explosion that resulted in the workers’ injuries, two of which were critical. The drilling company had previous OSHA citations including the investigation of an onsite fatality.
Smaller-scale accidents and fatalities are common in the oil and gas industry. On average, approximately 110 people die every year in the field, working on everything from drilling rigs or performing routine operations such as sampling.
Hazardous Environmental Practices
Oil transportation is also a hazardous practice. The most economic way to transport oil for long distances is by using an oil tanker, a large ship capable of carrying up to 3.7 million barrels. Although the number of spills and incidents is on the decline, on average, 1.7 large spills still occur each year.
Despite the decline of oil spill incidents, major accidents still happen. In 1979, 90 million gallons of oil leaked into the ocean when an oil tanker collided with another ship during a tropical storm. The ship leaked oil until it eventually sank into the ocean.
The most recent and detrimental spills occurred as a result of explosions and other incidents on offshore drilling platforms. Most of the world will still remember the BP oil incident of 2010, when an explosion on an offshore rig killed 11 people and purportedly leaked 206 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
Develop Alternative Energy Infrastructure
Converting to more sustainable energy sources is one way to reduce the United State’s reliance on oil products. Given the United States’ geographic diversity, many locations throughout the country are suitable for at least one source of renewable energy including geothermal, wind or solar power.
Investing in more renewable energy infrastructure will lower the dependency on oil and in turn help mitigate the associated environmental impacts. A reduction in oil demand will reduce the amount of oil transported across the ocean and the number of offshore drilling platforms. In turn, the number of spills will decrease, resulting in fewer environmental impacts.
Less oil production will also lead to fewer oil industry-related deaths and accidents. Lower volumes of production will decrease the number of new offshore platforms and drill rigs installed by companies. Fewer workers will face dangerous working conditions and can transition to positions in the safer, renewable energy sector.
Innovators can develop sustainable methods of creating products that traditionally use petroleum as their primary material source, such as plastics. Sustainable products that don’t rely on petroleum will be more cost-effective over time and better for the environment. The United States is in an excellent position to end the oil dependency and convert to using more sustainable materials and renewable energy sources to meet their needs.