5.2 Energy Sources: Oil and Gas

Author: Alyssa Dworak

ABSTRACT: Through exploring areas such as oil and gas extraction, site development, and commercial distribution, this article examines the impacts of oil and gas drilling on wildlife, human health, and the environment.

Image Credit: Blog.nus.edu.sg – Marine Pollution Blog (2019)


The oil and gas sector is a global powerhouse, producing hundreds of billions of dollars a year while employing hundreds of thousands of workers. Fuel oil and gas (petroleum) are the largest volumes of products in the industry in which we rely on. Petroleum is the primary material for a multitude of products, including pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, and plastics. The material, being integral to many industries, is of critical importance as it is the very foundation of these industries.

Within the oil and gas industry, there are sectors in which the extraction process and delivery is divided into. The Upstream sector covers exploration and production. This involves searching for underwater and underground natural gas fields or crude oil fields and the drilling of exploration wells to recover oil and gas. The Midstream sector entails the transportation, storage and processing of oil and gas. Once resources are recovered, they are transported to refineries, which are often in different geographical regions than the reserves. Methods of transportation include tanker ships, pipelines, and trucking fleets. The Downstream sector is the filtering of raw materials. This entails refining crude oil and purifying natural gas. Marketing and commercial distribution of these products to users is done in forms such as natural gas, diesel oil, asphalt, gas, as well as many other types of petrochemicals.

Oil and gas drilling has serious consequences for communities and wildland. Drilling projects operate around the clock, affecting wildlife, water resources, communities, human health, recreation, and other aspects of public lands. Loud noises, human movement and vehicle traffic from drilling operations can disrupt species’ communication and nesting. Project infrastructure, such as powerlines, fences and roads, can also interfere with their habitat. Just as wildlife is affected on land, those in the sea suffer the consequences as well. During oil extraction on land, drilling fluids are injected into the well for lubrication. These fluids, known as mud, are supposed to be captured in lined pits for disposal, but are often spilled around the drilling site. These spills have devastating impacts on animals, specifically affecting them through direct contact, inhalation and ingestion. People living within close proximity to oil and gas facilities are exposed to air and water pollution on a daily basis. This much exposure can lead to a variety of health issues. When fossil fuels are burned, toxic gases are generated, and breathing this air can trigger respiratory problems.

Fracking, a drilling method known for contaminating drinking water sources, generates huge volumes of wastewater containing chemicals that can leak into ponds, lagoons, and underground aquifers. With more and more fossil fuels being burned each year, the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere increases. These emissions have been trapping solar heat, causing the planet’s temperature to rise. The consequences have been resulting in longer wildfire seasons, stronger hurricanes, and harsher heatwaves. Furthermore, the infrastructure built for oil and gas extraction can leave great impacts on the land. The construction of roads, facilities, and drilling sites can destroy big chunks of wilderness that is often irreversible. Development of oil and gas complexes can strip the environment of vegetation, increase erosion which can lead to landslides and flooding, and disturb the land’s ground surface.

The big question seems to be how we can make a difference, both as individuals, and communities. Avoiding purchasing plastics is a great place to start. All plastics are made from petrol, so opting for products made of biodegradable and sustainable materials is encouraged. Being mindful of power usage at home is also very important and a step we can easily control in our homes. Turning off lights and heaters when not in use, unplugging appliances using phantom energy, and turning the water off while brushing your teeth are all great habits to practice. Being mindful of how often we drive is something not many people consider but is a challenge which is met with many solutions such as carpooling, cycling, walking and taking transit. Another act could be, being conscious of waste production. Opt for reusable bags, purchasing in bulk, or even packing a lunch instead of eating out. Many people find meal-prepping to be a method which not only limits waste production, but also helps maintain a healthy diet. A last point to consider in efforts to make a difference is supporting local. This act is even more relevant today, as we find ourselves in the midst of a pandemic. Supporting local businesses not only supports the business but helps our communities as well.


Muspratt, A. (2019, July 24). Introduction to oil and gas industry. Retrieved from https://www.oilandgasiq.com/strategy-management-and-information/articles/oil-gas-industry-an-introduction

The Wilderness Society, T. (2019, August 9). 7 ways oil and gas drilling is bad for the environment. Retrieved from https://www.wilderness.org/articles/blog/7-ways-oil-and-gas-drilling-bad-environment#


Alyssa is in her third year of studies at Ryerson School of Interior Design. She has recently become interested in sustainable design and looks forward to incorporating the concept within her future design projects.

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