7 ways oil and gas drilling is bad for the environment (2023)

Oil and gas drilling is a dirty business

Oil and gas drilling has a serious impact on our wildlands and communities. Drilling projects operate around the clock generating pollution, fueling climate change, disrupting wildlife and damaging public lands that were set aside to benefit all people.

For many years the federal government prioritized the development of fossil fuels over habitat conservation and recreation. Federal agencies gave the oil and gas industry generous access to public lands, tax breaks and subsidies. With this support, the industry encroached upon too many of our nation’s wildlands.

The Biden administration is reviewing some of these processes but we are still living with the consequences. For a cleaner future, it’s critical to reduce fossil fuel drilling on public lands. We need to equitably transition to responsible renewable energy—including solar and wind—to fulfill our energy needs while preserving our environment and communities.

Here are seven impacts of oil and gas drilling:

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1. Pollution impacts communities

7 ways oil and gas drilling is bad for the environment (1)

A total of 1.2 million oil and gas production facilities scar the U.S. landscape—from active wells to processing plants. More than 12 million people live within 1/2 mile of these sites and are exposed to pollutants on a daily basis. What’s more, when fossil fuels are burned by automobiles, power plants and industrial facilities, they release even more impurities.

Air pollution from fossil fuels is known as the “invisible killer.” It can lead to respiratory, cardiovascular and other diseases and is responsible for more than 13 percent of deaths in people aged 14 and older in the United States. Fossil fuel development can also leak toxic substances into the soil and drinking water sources, causing cancer, birth defects and liver damage.

Black, Brown, Indigenous and low-income communities are disproportionately impacted since these groups tend to live in neighborhoods with more pollution. Not surprisingly, these communities are fighting back. In Greeley, Colorado, residents of a predominantly Latino and immigrant community are trying to close an oil and gas operation located two blocks from a public school. The original plan was to place the wells near a predominantly white school but the location changed after angry parents pushed back.

The health threats from oil and gas production are very real and it’s crucial to reduce fossil fuel development—especially on public lands that should be contributing to our health and well-being.

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2. Dangerous emissions fuel climate change

7 ways oil and gas drilling is bad for the environment (2)

Climate change is happening here and now. The year 2020 was one of the warmest on record, wildfire season in the West is longer and hurricanes are more dangerous. These extreme weather events are directly linked to fossil fuels that release heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere.

While we are all impacted, Black, Brown, Indigenous and working-class communities are feeling the heat—quite literally. Due to unjust housing policies and practices, these communities often live in treeless, concrete neighborhoods that are more susceptible to extreme weather events. These groups also have a harder time accessing natural landscapes that can help mitigate climate impacts.

The United States is one of the world’s top emitters of greenhouse gases and almost one quarter comes from fossil fuel extracted on public lands. With better management, public lands can be a part of the solution instead of the problem. We can have less fossil fuel extraction on these lands and more responsible renewable energy.

3. Oil and gas development can ruin wildlands

7 ways oil and gas drilling is bad for the environment (3)

Infrastructure built for oil and gas extraction can leave behind radical impacts on wildlands. The construction of roads, facilities and drilling sites requires the use of heavy equipment and can destroy big chunks of pristine wilderness. The damage is often irreversible.

On public lands, over 12 million acres are being used to produce fossil fuels–the equivalent of six Yellowstone National Parks. These developments typically remove large amounts of rangelands and vegetation that is used by wildlife and people. Even if oil and gas companies eventually abandon these sites, it can take centuries before they fully recover.

What’s more, many fossil fuel developments are located in the West and in a semi-arid climate that receives little precipitation. A full recovery would require human intervention and a bundle of resources.

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4. Fossil fuel extraction turns visitors away

7 ways oil and gas drilling is bad for the environment (4)

Hunters, anglers, hikers, birders and vacationing families go into the wilderness to experience nature in all its beauty. Oil tanks, power poles, noisy compressors and busy roads are not what they expect to see. Too much noise, air pollution or damaged landscapes can ruin anyone’s getaway.

The unsightly effects of oil and gas can ultimately hurt local communities that depend on tourism for a living. Outdoor recreation is a big driver of local and national economies. In 2019, visitors to national parks spent an estimated $21.0 billion on their trips and supported 341,000 jobs, according to the National Park Service.

If polluters continue to call the shots on public lands, they’ll usher in a new era of unchecked energy development on wildlands that deserve preservation.

5. Drilling disrupts wildlife habitat

7 ways oil and gas drilling is bad for the environment (5)

Oil and gas extraction is a menace to wildlife. Loud noises, human movement and vehicle traffic from drilling operations can disrupt animals’ communication, breeding and nesting. Powerlines, wellpads, fences, and roads can also fragment habitats for many species.

The pronghorn antelope and mule deer in Wyoming are among the species most impacted. In the winter, some pronghorn travel south from the Grand Teton National Park to the Upper Green River Valley to escape heavy snow. Their journey is one of the longest big game migrations in the country.

But recently, animals making this age-old trek have faced a series of obstacles, notably, intense activity in major natural gas fields. The pronghorn have to navigate past enormous well pads and noisy compressor stations to find what forage hasn’t been bulldozed. Future energy development farther south could ultimately have major impacts on the abundance of this herd.

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6. Oil spills can be deadly to animals

7 ways oil and gas drilling is bad for the environment (6)

Big oil spills are big killers of wildlife and can cause long-lasting damage to marine ecosystems. Just think of BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The 2010 incident spread oil across 68,000 square miles of sea surface and killed approximately 1 million seabirds, 5,000 marine mammals and 1,000 sea turtles.

Smaller spills during oil and gas extraction don’t always make headlines but can also be dangerous. Drilling fluids injected into wells for lubrication—known as "mud"—are supposed to be captured in lined pits for disposal. However, they often leak and are splashed around drilling sites.

Big and small oil spills are common in top producing states. A recent report by the Center for Western Priorities found that 2,179 spills were reported in Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming in the year 2020. These incidents can have devastating effects on local wildlife through direct contact, inhalation and ingestion of toxic chemicals.

7. Light pollution impacts wildlife and wilderness

7 ways oil and gas drilling is bad for the environment (7)

The glare from oil and gas sites is so strong that it’s visible from space. Photos of Earth taken by NASA satellites show North Dakota's Bakken oil fields burning almost as bright as Minneapolis and Chicago. Much of that light is produced by the burnin, or flaring, of natural gas, well pads and storage sites.

Scientists have found that the bright glow can hurt pollinators such as bees. These insects have the very important job of moving pollen around, which helps to generate new fruits and plants. But luminosity disrupts their sleep, feeding and reproductive cycles, which in turn leads to the dwindling of plants such as the cabbage thistle.

The brightness is also changing important cultural landscapes like the Chaco National Park. The park is one of the best places in the world to stargaze, but its pristine skies could disappear to the human eye due to glare coming from oil and gas complexes. The show could come to an end if the federal government doesn’t permanently protect the area from this type of development.

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How is oil drilling bad for the environment? ›

Specifically, oil and gas exploration and development causes disruption of migratory pathways, degradation of important animal habitats, and oil spills—which can be devastating to the animals and humans who depend on these ecosystems.

What are 5 negative effects of the oil industry on the environment? ›

Other environmental impacts include intensification of the greenhouse effect, acid rain, poorer water quality, groundwater contamination, among others. The oil and gas industry may also contribute to biodiversity loss as well as to the destruction of ecosystems that, in some cases, may be unique.

Why is drilling for oil and gas bad? ›

Toxic Pollution: Normal offshore drilling operations release toxic pollution into the air and water. Exploration and drilling at the platform, transportation via tankers, and refining the oil on land can all release volatile organic compounds, greenhouse gases, and other air pollutants.

What are the dangers of oil drilling? ›

Safety Hazards Associated with Oil and Gas Extraction Activities
  • Vehicle Collisions.
  • Struck-By/ Caught-In/ Caught-Between.
  • Explosions and Fires.
  • Falls.
  • Confined Spaces.
  • Ergonomic Hazards.
  • High Pressure Lines and Equipment.
  • Electrical and Other Hazardous Energy.

What are 3 negative effects of oil on the environment? ›

Oil and gas drilling has a serious impact on our wildlands and communities. Drilling projects operate around the clock generating pollution, fueling climate change, disrupting wildlife and damaging public lands that were set aside to benefit all people.

What are the 5 effects of oil spills? ›

The main oil spill effects include a variety of diseases, negative economic impact, pollution with crude oil or petroleum products (distillates such as: gasoline, diesel products, jet fuels, kerosene, fuel oil, as well as heavy distillates like hydraulic and lubricating oils) and the aesthetic issues that affect the ...

What are 4 disadvantages of oil? ›

What are the disadvantages of using crude oil?
  • Oil is a non-renewable source of energy. ...
  • Burning oil produces carbon dioxide gas. ...
  • Burning oil can pollute the air.
  • Much of our oil has to be imported and it is becoming more and more expensive as reserves reduce and imports increase.

What are the 5 major sources of oil pollution in the ocean? ›

Oil spills that happen in rivers, bays and the ocean most often are caused by accidents involving tankers, barges, pipelines, refineries, drilling rigs and storage facilities, but also occur from recreational boats and in marinas.

How do people damage the environment? ›

Some human activities that cause damage (either directly or indirectly) to the environment on a global scale include population growth, overconsumption, overexploitation, pollution, and deforestation.

What are the problems of drilling? ›

The most prevalent drilling problems include:
  • Pipe sticking.
  • Loss of circulation.
  • Hole deviation.
  • Pipe failures.
  • Borehole instability.
  • Mud contamination.
  • Formation damage.
  • Hole cleaning.
26 Jun 2015

Why is oil drilling bad for climate change? ›

When oil and gas is extracted, the voids fill with water, which is a less effective insulator. This means more heat from the Earth's interior can be conducted to the surface, causing the land and the ocean to warm.

How much does oil drilling pollute? ›

Not only that, the oil and gas industry releases massive amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas that is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. All told, the industry is responsible for 38% of all methane emissions in the United States, or 3.8% of all greenhouse gases.

How does oil drilling affect the ocean? ›

Each year, U.S. offshore drilling rigs are responsible for dozens of spills of crude oil, natural gas liquids, diesel and hydraulic fluids into the environment. Oil breaks down into components that accumulate through the food chain, poisoning whales, dolphins, turtles, birds, fish and shellfish.

Which oil is harmful to the environment? ›

UCO not only chokes and clogs the municipal sewers but also drastically reduces the efficiency of the Waste Water Treatment Plants. Moreover, when this used oil ultimately ends up reaching the natural water reserves, it severely harms the aquatic and marine life.

Does oil drilling cause water pollution? ›

Oil and gas production generates radioactive sludge and polluted wastewater that is hazardous to the workers tending it and nearby residents. Without proper disposal, the waste can contaminate people's drinking water.

What are 2 negative effects of oil? ›

Oil spills contaminate soil and water and may cause devastating explosions and fires. The federal government and industry are developing standards, regulations, and procedures to reduce the potential for accidents and spills and to clean up spills when they occur.

What are 7 human activities that affect the environment? ›

Various Human Activities That Affect an Ecosystem
  • Agriculture. ...
  • Deforestation. ...
  • Overpopulation & Overconsumption. ...
  • Plastic Production. ...
  • Emission of Carbon Dioxide and Other Greenhouse Gases. ...
  • Destruction of the Reefs. ...
  • Production of Black Carbon.

How does oil affect humans? ›

Oil toxicity: Oil consists of many different toxic compounds. These toxic compounds can cause severe health problems like heart damage, stunted growth, immune system effects, and even death. Our understanding of oil toxicity has expanded by studying the effects of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

How does oil spills affect animals? ›

OIL SPILLS can harm wildlife in a number of ways. The toxic effects of inhaling vapors and ingesting oil when grooming or feeding can make animals sick. Oil can also coat an animal's fur or feathers, leading to hypothermia and a loss of buoyancy. Preventing spills is the best way to protect wildlife from oil spills.

Does oil damage the air? ›

Oil spills can affect the air quality in surrounding areas, releasing toxic chemicals into the atmosphere.

How does oil and gas affect climate change? ›

What is the link between fossil fuels and climate change? When fossil fuels are burned, they release large amounts of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into the air. Greenhouse gases trap heat in our atmosphere, causing global warming.

Is gas bad for the Environment? ›

Gasoline use contributes to air pollution

The vapors given off when gasoline evaporates and the substances produced when gasoline is burned (carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and unburned hydrocarbons) contribute to air pollution. Burning gasoline also produces carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.

What are 3 disadvantages of petroleum? ›

What Are the Disadvantages of Petroleum?
  • Combustion contributes dangerous gasses to the environment. ...
  • Petroleum is a finite resource. ...
  • The refinement process of petroleum can be toxic. ...
  • Petroleum can be a trigger for acid rain. ...
  • Petroleum transportation isn't 100% safe.
8 Sept 2017

What pollution is caused by oil? ›

In addition to helping form ozone, VOC emissions from the oil and gas industry include air toxics such as benzene, ethylbenzene, and n-hexane, also come from this industry. Air toxics are pollutants known, or suspected of causing cancer and other serious health effects.

What are 3 ways people are hurting the environment? ›

Humans impact the physical environment in many ways: overpopulation, pollution, burning fossil fuels, and deforestation. Changes like these have triggered climate change, soil erosion, poor air quality, and undrinkable water.

What is the most harmful thing to the environment? ›

World's Deadliest Environmental Threats-1
  1. Pollution. It takes millions of years to eliminate air, water and soil pollution. ...
  2. Population Growth. ...
  3. Global Warming. ...
  4. Depletion of Natural Resources. ...
  5. Waste. ...
  6. Climate Change. ...
  7. Deforestation. ...
  8. Ozone Depletion.

What causes the most damage to Earth? ›

Fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – are by far the largest contributor to global climate change, accounting for over 75 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 90 per cent of all carbon dioxide emissions. As greenhouse gas emissions blanket the Earth, they trap the sun's heat.

Why is oil drilling bad for global warming? ›

When fossil fuels are burned, they release large amounts of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into the air. Greenhouse gases trap heat in our atmosphere, causing global warming.

How does the oil industry affect the environment? ›

Waste and spills from oil and gas contain hydrocarbons, heavy metals, radioactive material, salts and toxic chemicals, all of which have the potential to damage soils and vegetation directly, and eventually groundwater. Air pollution and fires due to spills can also damage agricultural resources.

How does oil drilling cause global warming? ›

When we burn oil, coal, and gas, we don't just meet our energy needs—we drive the current global warming crisis as well. Fossil fuels produce large quantities of carbon dioxide when burned. Carbon emissions trap heat in the atmosphere and lead to climate change.

What are 2 serious problems that have come about because of the oil drilling in the Niger Delta? ›

Sabotage and theft through oil siphoning has become a major issue in the Niger River Delta states as well, contributing to further environmental degradation. Damaged lines may go unnoticed for days, and repair of the damaged pipes takes even longer.

How does drilling age affect the environment? ›

Exploring and drilling for oil may disturb land and marine ecosystems. Seismic techniques used to explore for oil under the ocean floor may harm fish and marine mammals. Drilling an oil well on land often requires clearing an area of vegetation.

How does the oil industry cause pollution? ›

In addition to helping form ozone, VOC emissions from the oil and gas industry include air toxics such as benzene, ethylbenzene, and n-hexane, also come from this industry. Air toxics are pollutants known, or suspected of causing cancer and other serious health effects.

How does the oil industry cause water pollution? ›

Oil cannot dissolve in water and forms a thick sludge in the water. This suffocates fish, gets caught in the feathers of marine birds stopping them from flying and blocks light from photosynthetic aquatic plants.

Does oil drilling cause radiation? ›

Oil and gas extraction activities, including fracking, drilling, and production, can release radioactive materials that endanger workers, nearby communities, and the environment. Radioactive elements are naturally present in many soils and rock formations, as well as in the water that flows through them.

What is the biggest threat to the oil industry? ›

Whilst climate change is one of the major threats to oil and gas, the disruption from protests and activism goes beyond the green agenda.

Why should oil drilling be banned? ›

Offshore oil and gas drilling threatens our beaches, rivers, creeks, salt marshes and Sea Islands. It threatens wildlife like brown pelicans, bottlenose dolphins, sea turtles and endangered North Atlantic right whales. Offshore oil and gas drilling threatens our coastal way of life.

What are the effects of oil spill on human health? ›

Studies of biomarkers have uncovered irreparable harm to humans exposed to oil and gas from spills. These effects can be grouped into respiratory damage, liver damage, decreased immunity, increased cancer risk, reproductive damage and higher levels of some toxics (hydrocarbons and heavy metals).


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