Petroleum-Based Chemicals – What You Need to Know

Petroleum, like all fossil fuels, primarily consists of a complex mixture of molecules called hydrocarbons. Petrochemical plants convert the components of oil and gas, such as ethane, propane, and more into chemicals like ethylene, propylene, and methanol. Two of the most common petrochemical classes, olefins and aromatics, are the building blocks for plastics, industrial chemicals, agricultural pesticides, and other materials that are harmful to human health and the environment.

Petroleum Refineries

Petroleum refineries are entities that separate crude oil into a vast array of petroleum products through a series of physical and chemical separation techniques.  These techniques such as fractionation, cracking, and hydrotreating are responsible for supplying everyday products like petroleum gas, diesel fuel, kerosene, motor oil and asphalt.  Several fragrances, food additives, inks and dies are also produced using these harmful techniques.

Although petroleum refineries are one of the largest industries in the US and a vital part of the National economy, there are several potential environmental hazards involved with them, and an increased cause for concern in areas in close proximity to them.

Environmental Hazards of Petroleum-Based Chemicals and Refineries

Substantial quantities of toxic and non-toxic waste are generated during the extraction, refinement and transportation stages of oil and gas. Some industry by-products, such as volatile organic compounds, nitrogen, sulfur compounds and spilled oil can pollute air, water and soil at levels that are harmful to life. Below are the most common forms of pollution caused by petroleum-based chemicals and refineries.

Air Pollution

Emissions or air pollutants result from the burning of oil or gas and during all other stages of the oil-producing process from extraction to consumption. In the extraction phase gas venting and flaring release methane, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxides and aerosols. The refinement and consumption phases of the oil-producing process produce several other pollutants that are released into the air causing adverse effects on human health. 

Oil Spills

Oil spills occur when crude oil is released from tankers, pipelines and drilling rigs as well as spills of refined petroleum products and their byproducts into the ocean or coastal waters. Recovery and cleanup from an oil spill can be quite difficult and depends on many factors including location, the type of oil spilled and the temperature of the water.

Produced Water and Drilling Water Discharge

Produced water discharge results in polyaromatic hydrocarbon emission in the ocean and is considered the largest emission event in the marine environment. It is the direct result of offshore oil and gas production. Long term exposure to polyaromatic hydrocarbon emission has been linked to several forms of cancer in humans including lung, skin, bladder and gastrointestinal cancer.

Why Is This Important?

The extraction and refinement of oil, gas and petroleum-based products greatly affects both the environment and human life. The air we breathe and the water we drink is potentially filled with toxins caused by oil-producing processes. In order to mitigate the potential health and environmental risks caused by the petroleum industry we must implement measures to ensure that the process is completed in the most safe and efficient manner.

Get your water tested today if you have any questions or concerns regarding your water quality! A Culligan expert can test your water and recommend the right system for your home that will help reduce unwanted toxins caused by petroleum-based products.

Sources:

https://earthjustice.org/features/petrochemicals-explainer
https://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/dwq/chemicals/Petroleum%20Productsrev071105.pdf
https://cfpub.epa.gov/ncer_abstracts/index.cfm/fuseaction/display.files/fileID/14522
https://ballotpedia.org/Oil_and_natural_gas_pollution

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