Project on the Ailing Planet

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Oil Production and Environmental Damage

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I. Abstract

Most countries depend on oil. States will go to great lengths to acquire an oil production capability or to be assured access to the free flow of oil. History has provided several examples in which states were willing to go to war to obtain oil resources or in defense of an oil producing region. States have even become involved in conflicts over areas which may only possibly contain oil resources. This trend is likely to continue in the future until a more economical resource is discovered or until the world's oil wells run dry. One problem associated with this dependence on oil is the extremely damaging effects that production, distribution, and use have on the environment. Furthermore, accidents and conflict can disrupt production or the actual oil resource, which can also result in environmental devastation. One potential solution to this problem is to devise a more environmentally-safe resource to fuel the economies of the world.

II. Issue Background


Although much of the world depends on the production or the trade of oil to fuel its economies, these activities can cause severe damage to the environment, either knowingly or unintentionally. Oil production, and/or transportation, can disrupt the human population, and the animal and fish life of the region. Oil waste dumping, production pollution, and spills wreak havoc on the surrounding wildlife and habitat. It threatens the extinction of several plants, and has already harmed many land, air, and sea animal and plant species. The effects of oil on marine life are cause by either the physical nature of the oil (physical contamination and smothering) or by its chemical components (toxic effects and accumulation leading to tainting). Marine life may also be affected by clean-up operations or indirectly through physical damage to the habitats in which plants and animals live. The animals and plants most at risk are those that could come into contact with a contaminated sea surface: marine animals and reptiles; birds that feed by diving or form flocks on the sea; marine life on shorelines; and animals and plants in mariculture facilities. Runoffs from petroleum processing and petrochemical plants have dumped tons of toxic wastes into nearby waters. Gas and oil pipelines have stanched many creeks and rivers, swamping prime pastures and cropland. Furthermore, entire bays and lagoons along coasts have been fouled by oil spills and runoff of toxic chemicals. The environmental damage that is a result of oil retraction and production can also directly effect human life in the region. Damage can include pollution of water resources and contamination of the soil. Humans are effected by environmental devastation because it is damaging to vegetation, livestock, and to the health of the human body itself. Oil spills can interfere with the normal working of power stations and desalination plants that require a continuous supply of clean seawater and with the safe operation of coastal industries and ports. Environmental damage can also be a result of conflict over oil-producing regions. Environmental harm associated with oil resources can either be attributed to a side effect of conflict, or, in some cases, it is associated with military aggression that is intended to damage the natural resources of the region.

III. Relevant TED Cases

The eight following case studies were selected to demonstrate the damage that oil production and/or conflict over oil resources can have on the environment. Ecuador, Nigeria, Columbia, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan are only a few examples of countries where oil production has had, or...
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