"The greatest natural resource our country has is not oil. It's not gas. It's not coal. It's the genius of our children."
Cory Booker, Politician
Our global society is heavily dependent on the supply with oil.
Several industries need oil for power production, fuel production, plastics, cosmetics and many other material things.
However, this dependence on oil can be quite dangerous.
Even though the use of oil can have many upsides, it also implies serious problems. In this article, the pros and cons of oil are examined.
One advantage of oil is that it is a pretty mature technology and has been used over many decades. Processes have been optimized over the years in order to improve the efficiency of this fossil fuel. Oil can be used for a variety of purposes and is crucial for many different industry branches, which makes it a quite flexible resource.
Since oil is used for many different industries, we as a society optimized our infrastructure around this resource. This means that most material things that you use in your daily life had been manufactured from or at least with the help of oil. Since the whole supply chain in the production processes of companies relies on oil, an absence of this resource would imply serious trouble for many companies on a global scale.
Since oil is used not only for our vehicles, but also for cosmetics, plastics and many other things, it plays a huge role in our daily routine. Thus, if we want to maintain our current lifestyle, in the short run, there is no serious alternative to the use of crude oil for the production of a variety of material goods.
Compared to other energy sources, oil can be considered to be rather cheap. Especially for heating purposes, oil is usually much cheaper compared to electric heating or other alternative heating devices. However, this may change if the price for fossil fuels increases over the next years.
A price increase for fossil fuels like oil is quite likely since it is a fossil resource and may become quite scarce over the next decades, which may significantly increase the world market price for oil.
Since there are large amounts of oil in the ground, we still have an abundance of oil that could be mined. However, this may change over the next decades since fossil fuels like oil and gas may eventually become scarce or even depleted.
Thus, even though the technologies related to oil might be scalable now, it might not be scalable in a couple of decades anymore.
Oil can also be regarded as a quite efficient power source. For instance, for the production of one energy unit, less resources have to be used compared to most other energy sources due to the higher energy density of oil. Thus, large amounts of energy can be produced by using oil, which makes it such popular as a primary energy source.
It is also rather easy to store oil, which makes it favorable compared to alternative energies like hydrogen power where it is quite hard to store raw materials before they are converted into energy. Thus, since oil is easy and rather inexpensive to store, it is quite popular in the industrial production processes.
One major advantages of oil as a major power source is that it is a quite reliable energy source. Since energy can be produced from oil 24/7, the energy production could be increased if more energy is urgently needed. This is a huge advantage compared to alternative energies like solar or wind power.
If the sun is not shining or if there is no wind, energy could not be produced with those alternative technologies on a large scale. Thus, oil is independent of those outside weather conditions, which implies a significant advantage regarding the reliability in the energy production context.
Since oil has been drilled for many years and the extraction processes have been optimized, oil is nowadays quite easy to extract and process. Through those sophisticated extraction processes, the prices related to the extraction of oil declined significantly over the past decades, which in turn also implies a decline in the price for oil.
Also the transportation of oil is quite simple since large amounts of oil could be transported through pipelines. Contrary to other fossil fuels like coal where large amounts of raw materials have been transported by trucks or ships, the transportation of oil is much easier which also implies lower greenhouse gas emissions related to the shipping of crude materials.
Even though the use of coal in the energy production process also implies the production of harmful by-products, some by-products can also be reused for the production of material goods made out of plastic. Thus, our natural resources could be used quite efficiently in the energy production process related to oil.
In regions where the oil industry is quite popular and a major branch of the local economy, many jobs may rely on oil. Thus, especially in those regions, the energy production related to oil may be crucial in order to create new jobs or at least to sustain the existing jobs.
Through the energy transition process from fossil to renewable power sources, many workers that are currently employed in the oil industry may become unemployed in the near future.
Even though the transition from fossil to renewable energies has already started, we as a global society are still heavily dependent on oil as primary power source. Thus, the use of oil will still be crucial in order to ensure our supply with material things for many years.
Therefore, oil is crucial in order to avoid a breakdown of industries in the energy transition process. However, when the energy transition process has been accomplished in the next decades, oil will become less important.
One significant downside of oil is that it implies high levels of air pollution. In the combustion process of oil, plenty of harmful gases are emitted into our atmosphere. Moreover, the combustion of oil also implies serious particle pollution. All this could significantly hurt our environment and also human health.
The use of oil may also lead to serious ocean pollution. In case of oil tanker accidents, large amounts of oil could enter the oceans, which in turn would lead to serious water pollution. In turn, many fishes, birds and other sea animals may die.
Moreover, microplastics and plenty of other things made out of plastic may eventually end up in our oceans. Thus, the use of plastic in the energy as well as in the production sector may contribute to significant ocean pollution and many other related adverse effects.
One of the biggest problems of oil is that the combustion of oil implies the emission of large amounts of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere.
In turn, this emission of greenhouse gases contributes to an acceleration of global warming and the related horrible consequences.
Thus, the use of oil could be indirectly responsible for the deaths of millions of people due to the effects of global warming.
The emission of harmful gases in the oil combustion process also contributes to the depletion of the ozone layer. However, since an intact ozone layer is crucial for human health, ozone layer depletion may cause many serious health issues, including an increasing number of skin cancer and other public health problems. Moreover, the depletion of the ozone layer is not only bad for humans, but also hurts our global flora and fauna.
The emission of harmful gases that is implied by the use of coal also contributes to acid rain. Even though acid rain is not considered to be a big problem by the general public, acid rain can cause serious environmental problems. This may include lower crop yields and may also hurt the local flora and fauna.
Since oil has to be drilled out of the ground, the extraction of oil often also implies the destruction of habitats of many animals and plants. Moreover, the extraction of oil often also requires serious deforestation in order to be able to mine for oil. All this may contribute to a decline in biodiversity.
It may also imply the endangerment and extinction of many species, since animals and plants are often quite sensitive to changes in their natural living conditions and organisms which are not able to adapt properly may die off.
Another downside of oil is that it is a finite resource which will eventually become depleted in the future. Thus, it can not be considered to be a sustainable resource which humanity should rely on in the long run. Therefore, we as a global society should rely on green and renewable resources instead and avoid the dependence on oil.
Countries that heavily rely on oil are also quite dependent on the mercy of other countries. For instance, countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia and Russia export large amounts of oil to other countries.
If those oil-exporting countries stop their oil supply for several political reasons, countries who rely on oil as primary energy source may be in big trouble.
In order to lower such dependencies, it may be senseful for those nations to transit to other energy sources instead.
The dependence on oil as a primary energy source also implies the dependence on global oil market prices. If oil market prices increase, countries which are dependent on oil may have no choice but to pay those higher prices, which may result in damage for the local economy and may also increase government debt.
Since oil is a quite precious natural resource and the trade with oil is a multi-billion-dollar business, there are many conflicts and even local wars related to oil. Thus, in order to mitigate those conflicts and to save many lives, it is crucial to transit to other energy sources so that oil can no longer be a major source of conflict for the local population.
Since oil is a fossil resource and becomes scarcer over time, the exploration of new oil extraction opportunities also becomes more difficult over time. Thus, this in turn implies that the exploration of oil fields becomes more expensive, which may increase the global oil price and may lower the incentive for firms to engage in the oil business or to rely on oil as primary energy source.
There are also several serious health issues related to the use and combustion of oil. Through the emission of harmful gases into our atmosphere, the chances for serious pulmonary diseases increases significantly. Moreover, studies found that also the chances for cardiovascular diseases increase with a higher level of air pollution.
Since many states discuss or already introduced a carbon tax in order to protect our climate, the use of oil will become more expensive over time. In turn, this may hurt industries which currently still rely on oil as primary energy source. For those industries, it may be time to switch from oil to alternative energy sources instead.
Especially in poor countries on our planet which often have a weak and unstable political infrastructure, the oil industry is often misused to finance extremist activities. Thus, oil trade with some countries may also imply the support of terrorist organizations.
Employees who work in the oil extraction business are at a quite high danger for serious accidents. Studies have shown that the probability for facilities from working in the oil extraction business is multiple times higher compared to an average job. Thus, lives could be saved through the transition process from fossil to renewable energies.
Oil pipelines may also become a target for terrorist attacks. Terrorists know how dependent and vulnerable our global economy really is when it comes to the power supply from oil. Thus, an attack pipelines may cause serious global problems.
There may also be leaks in the transportation and distribution of oil or other accidents which may lead to serious environmental pollution. Even only small amounts of oil that reach our oceans or other water bodies can cause the pollution of large amounts of water.
Since water will become a scarce and precious resource in the future due to global warming, we as a global society should stop to rely on oil and rather transit to green renewable power sources instead.
Pros of Oil
Whole infrastructures are built around oil
Can be used for a variety of purposes
Cheap source of energy
Efficient power source
Reliable power source
Extraction is relatively easy
Crucial during energy transition phase
Cons of Oil
Destruction of habitats
Oil as finite resource
Dependence on other countries
Dependence on global oil price
Oil field exploration might be expensive
Public health problems
Support of extremist groups
Dangerous working conditions
Target for terrorists
Leaks and accidents
Oil has been crucial for the development of our global economy over the past decades. Even in our current state, many industries and countries are still dependent on oil.
However, since the use of oil also implies serious problems, governments around the world should accelerate the energy transition process in order to become more independent from fossil fuels like oil.
About the author
My name is Andreas and my mission is to educate people of all ages about our environmental problems and how everyone can make a contribution to mitigate these issues.
As I went to university and got my Master's degree in Economics, I did plenty of research in the field of Development Economics.
After finishing university, I traveled around the world. From this time on, I wanted to make a contribution to ensure a livable future for the next generations in every part of our beautiful planet.
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