Pollution Caused by Fossil Fuels | Education - Seattle PI
When we think of plastic pollution, we think of images of plastic bags on the beach, suffering marine life, and the almost invisible smog of. Airborne nitrogen pollution affects not only the quality of the air we breathe, but also the land and the water. Nitrogen is the most abundant. is a liquid fossil fuel made up mostly of hydrocarbons and health problems, including air and water pollution.
The resulting drainage water is detrimental to human, plant, and animal life [ 4 ]. Surface mining Surface mining involves removing the overlaying soil to access the coal below, devastating local environments. Mountaintop removal, a particularly destructive form of surface mining, involves stripping all trees and other vegetation from peaks and hilltops, and then blasting away hundreds of feet of the earth below with explosives.
Runoff water, laden with metals, from a mountain top removal site. The process results in both short- and long-term environmental impacts. In the short term, huge volumes of excess rock and soil are typically dumped into adjacent valleys and streams, altering their ecosystems and diverting the natural flow of streams.
In the long term, coal removal sites are left with poor soil that typically only supports exotic grasses. Buried valleys are similarly slow to rebound. The EPA reports that as ofmountaintop removal coal extraction had buried nearly 2, miles of Appalachian headwater streams, some of the most biologically diverse streams in the country [ 6 ].
Surface mining can also directly impact the health and safety of surrounding communities.
Mudslides, landslides, and flashfloods may become more common. And depending on the chemical makeup of the coal deposit, mines can pollute local drinking water sources with toxic chemicals like selenium, arsenic, manganese, lead, iron, and hydrogen sulfide [ 7 ]. A Harvard University study, which assessed the life cycle costs and public health effects of coal from tofound a link to lung, cardiovascular, and kidney diseases—such as diabetes and hypertension—and an elevated occurrence of low birth rate and preterm births associated with surface mining practices.
Oil and gas drilling The environmental and health costs of onshore and offshore oil and gas drilling are also significant, and often unseen. The impacts of unconventional extraction methods, such as natural gas hydraulic fracturing commonly called fracking have received much attention, but all methods of oil and gas extraction carry hidden costs.
Water impact When oil and gas are extracted, water that had been trapped in the geologic formation is brought to the surface. When hydraulic fracturing methods are used, the total amount of waste water is amplified by the large volume of water and chemicals involved in the process. One government-sponsored report found that, from to14 oil and gas companies used million gallons of hydraulic fracturing products containing chemicals and other components [ 12 ].
Another study identified chemicals contained in fracking products used in shale gas extraction. Researchers could track only chemicals from that larger list and found that 25 percent of those chemicals cause cancer or other mutations, and about half could severely damage neurological, cardiovascular, endocrine, and immune systems [ 13 ].
The Hidden Costs of Fossil Fuels
Land use A large amount of land is disturbed by the drilling wells, access roads, processing facilities, and pipelines associated with oil and gas drilling operations.
In particular, noise and habitat fragmentation can harm wildlife populations.
The advent of horizontal drilling technology, used extensively in unconventional gas production, has greatly reduced the surface footprint of drilling operations by allowing multiple wells to be drilled from a single well pad. However, much of the development of the US shale gas resources is occurring in locations where oil and gas production has not previously taken place in some cases in wilderness areasrequiring extensive infrastructure development and land degradation [ 15 ]. A flare burning excess methane at a drilling site.
The full global warming impact of natural gas also includes methane emissions from drilling wells and pipeline transportation. Methane, the main component of natural gas, is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide—some 34 times more effective at trapping heat over a year timescale and 86 times more effective over a year timescale [ 16 ].
Methane losses must be kept below 3. Oil drilling can also produce methane. Although it can be captured and used as an energy source, the gas is often either vented released or flared burned.
Vented methane contributes greatly to global warming, and poses a serious safety hazard. Flaring the gas converts it from methane to carbon dioxide, which reduces its impact but still releases additional greenhouse gases to into the atmosphere.
- The Sources and Solutions: Fossil Fuels
The World Bank estimates that 5. Offshore drilling Offshore oil and gas drilling poses many of the same risks as onshore drilling; however, these risks are amplified due to the remote location of offshore drilling sites and the complicated engineering required.
Inan explosion at the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 workers and led to the release of approximately 4. The accident was unique in terms of its scale, but environmental and safety incidents are common in the offshore oil and gas industries. Between andoffshore drilling rigs experienced 34 fatalities, 1, injuries, and 60 oils spills of more than 50 barrels each [ 20 ].
For example, tar sands —an extremely viscous oil with the consistency of peanut butter—requires significantly more energy to mine and refine, emitting up to three times more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil in the process.
These and other additional emissions mean that the dirtiest sources of oil can add as much as an extra ton of pollution per year for the average car.
Environmental Costs of Fossil Fuels : A Rapid Assessment Method with Application to Six Cities
Transporting fossil fuels Photo: Coal In most cases, coal is transported from mines to power plants. Inapproximately 68 percent of the coal used for electric power in the US was transported by rail: Train cars, barges, and trucks all run on diesel fuel, a major source of nitrogen dioxide and soot, which carry substantial human health risks [ 22 ]. Transporting coal can also produce coal dust, which presents serious cardiovascular and respiratory risks for communities near transportation routes [ 23 ].
A map of Boston's methane emissions, leaked from aging pipes.
Natural gas Natural gas is transported over long distances by transmission pipelines, while distribution pipelines deliver gas locally to homes and businesses. But natural gas is also highly flammable, making the process of transporting it from wellhead to homes and businesses dangerous. The result is an increase in global temperatures, the U. Environmental Protection Agency states. This phenomenon of climate change is associated with floods and heavy rainfalls in many regions, as well as more frequent droughts and severe heat waves.
Air Pollution and Health Fossil fuels are a major contributor to health-harming air pollution. The emission of carbon monoxide gases from cars and trucks is the most commonly cited example, but not the only one. The combustion process also creates nitrogen oxides that lead to the creation of smog, the Union of Concerned Scientists advises.
These materials can cause bronchitis and pneumonia, decrease resistance to respiratory infections and irritate the lungs.
Pollution Caused by Fossil Fuels
Power plant and transportation-related activities are about equally responsible for nitrogen oxide emissions. Fossil fuels also produce byproducts that hang in the air and irritate the lungs, such as dust, soot and smoke.
Land and Water Pollution Fossil fuel production activities have implications for land and water resources. One example is surface mining and processing of coal, which disturbs larger areas of land than underground mining does, the EPA states. Coal-fired power plants also release pollutants that contaminate nearby soils.