11 Environmental Impacts of Oil Extraction

Our wildlands and communities are seriously impacted by oil exploitation. Drilling operations are ongoing and cause pollution, contribute to climate change, disturb wildlife, and harm public areas that were set aside for everyone’s benefit.

The production of fossil fuels was given top priority by the federal government for a long time at the expense of habitat preservation and recreation. Federal agencies generously granted access to public lands, tax advantages, and subsidies to the oil and gas business. With this backing, the industry’s encroachment on our country’s wildlands was excessive.

Although the Biden administration is looking at some of these procedures, the results are still being felt today. It’s crucial to limit fossil fuel drilling on public lands if we want a greener future. To meet our energy demands and safeguard our environment and communities, we must transition equally to responsible renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind.

Environmental Impacts of Oil Extraction

The following are the effects of oil extraction on the environment

1. Pollution Impacts Communities

The U.S. landscape is marred by 1.2 million oil and gas production facilities, ranging from active wells to processing plants. More than 12 million individuals are daily exposed to pollution because they live less than half a mile from these locations.

Furthermore, the burning of fossil fuels in vehicles, power plants, and industrial facilities results in the discharge of even more pollutants.

Fossil fuel-related air pollution is referred to as the “invisible killer.” More than 13% of fatalities in Americans aged 14 and older are attributable to it, which can result in respiratory, cardiovascular, and other disorders.

Development with fossil fuels results in toxic waste leaks into the ground and water supplies, which damage the liver and cause cancer and other birth problems.

Low-income, black, brown, and indigenous communities also suffer disproportionately since they frequently reside in areas with higher levels of pollution. It is not unexpected that these communities are retaliating.

Residents of a neighborhood in Greeley, Colorado, that is largely Latino and immigrant, are attempting to shut down an oil and gas business that is two blocks away from a public school. The wells were originally going to be installed next to a school with a largely white student body, but after pushback from irate parents, the location was altered.

Reducing fossil fuel development is essential, especially on public lands which should be improving our health since the health risks from oil and gas production are extremely real.

2. Climate Change

The quantity of carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases increases as a result of the combustion of petroleum. According to studies, a rise in carbon dioxide raises the temperature of the atmosphere.

One of the main causes of air pollution is the burning of petroleum for industrial, home, and transportation purposes. Carbon dioxide is the end product of burning oil, but there are other by-products as well, such as nitrates and carbon dioxide.

Ozone and other greenhouse gases are created when the byproducts interact with the environment. Temperatures rise as a result of the detrimental impacts of increased air pollution.

30% of the radiation waves that arrive are reflected by the atmosphere, while 70% are retained for warming. Nevertheless, an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide acts as a “blanket” to the elevated heat.

As a result, the longer wave radiation becomes trapped in the atmosphere’s high carbon dioxide concentration, raising temperatures even further. This will cause global warming, which will result in altered rainfall patterns, glacier melting, and rising sea levels.

3. Destruction of Wildlands

On wildlands, infrastructure erected for oil and gas extraction can have drastic effects. Heavy machinery is needed to build roads, buildings, and drilling sites, which can significantly damage virgin wilderness.

Often, the harm is irreparable. More than 12 million acres, or six Yellowstone National Parks, are exploited to produce fossil fuels on public lands.

Large portions of the rangelands and vegetation that are used by wildlife and people are generally destroyed by these developments. It may take centuries for these sites to fully recover, even if oil and gas companies eventually abandon them.

Furthermore, a lot of fossil fuel developments are situated in the West, where the climate is semi-arid and precipitation is scarce. A lot of resources and humanitarian assistance would be needed for a complete recovery.

4. Changes to the Scenery

Deep-seated influences on the landscape are left by the building and oil and gas drilling activities. Companies need to build roads and well pads, and heavy equipment like bulldozers and gravel trucks are used in these processes.

The processes lead to the extinction of plant life, increased soil erosion that can result in flooding and landslides, disturbance of the earth’s surface, and badly ruined animal habitats. In most cases, these effects are irreversible.

5. Discourages Tourists

To enjoy nature in all its beauty, hunters, anglers, hikers, birders, and vacationing families enter the wilderness. They don’t anticipate seeing oil tanks, power poles, noisy compressors, or busy roadways. Anyone’s vacation can be ruined by excessive noise, air pollution, or damaged scenery.

Local towns that rely on tourism for a living may ultimately suffer as a result of the unattractive effects of oil and gas. Local and national economies rely heavily on outdoor recreation. According to the National Park Service, visitors to national parks supported 341,000 employment and spent an estimated $21.0 billion on their travels in 2019.

Polluters will usher in a new era of unfettered energy development on wildlands that merit preservation if they are allowed to continue making decisions about public lands.

5. Disruption of Wildlife Habitat

Wildlife is endangered by the extraction of oil and gas. Animal communication, breeding, and nesting can be hampered by loud noises, human movement, and vehicle traffic from drilling operations. Numerous s species’ habitats can also be damaged by highways, fences, well pads, and powerlines.

In Wyoming, mule deer and pronghorn antelope are two of the species most adversely affected. In order to avoid the deep snow in the Grand Teton National Park, some pronghorns migrate south to the Upper Green River Valley in the winter.

One of the country’s longest big game migrations, their journey is extensive. Animals making this ancient journey, however, have recently encountered a number of challenges, most notably intense activity in significant natural gas fields.

To find the feed that hasn’t been demolished, pronghorn must maneuver over massive wellpads and deafening compressor stations. The abundance of this herd could ultimately be significantly impacted by future energy development further south.

6. Death of Animals

Large oil spills have a devastating effect on marine ecosystems and kill a lot of species. Just consider the Gulf of Mexico’s Deepwater Horizon catastrophe caused by BP.

About 1 million seabirds, 5,000 marine animals, and 1,000 sea turtles perished in the 2010 disaster, which covered 68,000 square miles of the sea surface.

Although smaller oil and gas leaks don’t typically make the news, they can still be harmful. The “mud” that is used to lubricate wells during drilling is meant to be collected in lined pits before being disposed of.

But they frequently leak and splatter all over drilling locations. Oil spills of various sizes are frequent in states with high production.

The Center for Western Priorities discovered in recent research that 2,179 spills were reported in the states of Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming in 2020.

Through direct touch, inhalation, and ingestion of harmful chemicals, these accidents have the potential to have severe consequences on local species.

7. Light Pollution

It is visible from orbit because of the intense glare from oil and gas operations. NASA satellite images of Earth show the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota lighting nearly as brightly as Minneapolis and Chicago. The burning or flaring of natural gas, well pads, and storage sites is responsible for a large portion of that light.

Researchers have discovered that pollinators like bees can suffer from strong glare. The highly crucial task of dispersing pollen, which aids in the development of new fruits and plants, is performed by these insects.

However, brightness throws off their sleeping, eating, and reproducing schedules, which causes plants like the cabbage thistle to disappear. Important cultural landscapes like the Chaco National Park are being altered by the brightness.

The park is one of the best sites in the world to view the stars, but the glare from nearby oil and gas installations could make the park’s clear skies invisible to the human eye. If the federal government doesn’t permanently preserve the area from this kind of development, the show might end.

8. Waste Oil

Waste oil not only has product breakdowns in it, but it also has tainted contaminants from use. Examples of these oils are brake fluids and hydraulic oil, to name a few.

Waste oil that enters water systems is also linked to many of the issues that are related to the extraction of petroleum. The oil turns poisonous to the earth and drinking water. Rain also spreads the oil waste to larger bodies of water, contaminating those as well.

9. Unwanted Sonic Turbulences

Offshore search teams typically employ air cannons to fire sound signals into bodies of water; the sound then rebounds off the ocean floor, allowing the teams to create maps that can find probable locations for underwater oil.

Since fish like dolphins and other aquatic creatures rely on sound for communication, foraging, and movement, loud noises might interfere with their everyday activities. Seismic surveys typically last nearly a month and cover distances of up to 600 miles.

10. Safe Waste Disposal

Waste products from offshore drilling include bilge water and chemical byproducts. These wastes might end up in the water in some cases.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates these wastes by requiring oil drilling companies to dispose of their waste products at the coast or to treat them before returning them to the ocean. However, occasionally industries release waste materials without processing them.

11. Effects on the Ocean Floor

Offshore drilling causes physical disruptions to the benthic community and the ecology of the seabed. There are many aspects of drilling that have a long-lasting impact on the bottom, including the drilling rig’s physical track, underwater pipelines, searching ship channels, cuttings, and other drilling waste.

This is crucial to remember, especially in light of the fact that many of the world’s most vulnerable ocean floor ecosystems—like the Great Barrier Reef, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Arctic—are also rich in oil and gas reserves.

These ecosystems are all incredibly diverse ecological units. Some experts think that platforms used for oil rigs make great fish habitats.


From this article, we have seen that all processes that have to do with fossil fuel are of much harm to the environment and to show we care for ourselves and our environment, we have to move away from fossil fuels and embrace environmentally friendly energy sources.


Editor at EnvironmentGo! | providenceamaechi0@gmail.com | + posts

A passion-driven environmentalist by heart. Lead content writer at EnvironmentGo.
I strive to educate the public about the environment and its problems.
It has always been about nature, we ought to protect not destroy.

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