Oil and the Environment
Although oil is considerably cleaner in use than coal, it is a far dirtier fuel than natural gas.
Combustion of oil and oil derivatives is one of the world’s primary sources of carbon dioxide emissions and although both power generation and internal combustion engine technologies have made great progress in recent decades it is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. This is due in part to the continued growth of countries such as China and India who have strong manufacturing industries and comparatively relaxed environmental constraints, and who are increasingly turning to motor vehicles for transportation as their countries become more affluent.
One of the more highly publicised aspects of the impact of oil on the environment in recent years has been the detrimental effect to marine ecosystems and sea-birds caused by spillages from oil tankers. Even with modern clean-up techniques and an understanding that post-incident containment is critical, cannot be understated.
The combustion of oil contributes to the problem of acid rain as well as climate change as most oil has some degree of sulphur content which when burned reacts with atmospheric oxygen to form sulphur dioxide, which in turn becomes sulphuric acid in contact with atmospheric water vapour. The resulting acid rain can decimate forests as well as causing damage to natural and man-made structures and buildings. The use of low-sulphur fuels can together with technologies such as ionic precipitation can help to reduce the environmental impact of burning mineral oils.
There are plans to trial the use of palm oil in energy generation as a replacement for current fuel sources although this too is not without its problems; palm oil is often sourced from plantations created on areas of cleared rainforest and so the widespread use of palm oil as biofuel as well as its current use as a food additive could create an incentive for the clearing of more rainforest, and as rainforests process much of the world’s atmospheric carbon dioxide this would theoretically exacerbate the impact of climate change rather than lessen it.