Petroleum is a liquid mixture of hydrocarbons that we can harvest from rock strata. Once we extract this fluid, refiners can use it to produce several different fuels, including diesel oil, kerosene, and gasoline. There are some places where this oil does not get trapped underground, so it will start seeping to the surface. One of the most significant natural seeps for this resource is found in the Upper Ojai Valley in California.
Petroleum is thick and flammable, which is why it makes such an efficient resource for fuel. The color can range from yellow to black, while the hydrocarbons we harvest can also take on solid or gaseous qualities.
There are several different classifications of crude oil when evaluating the petroleum that we harvest each day. Each name is based on the location of the product’s origin, its relative weight, and the amount of sulfur content it contains. If the petroleum is sweet, then it contains relatively little sulfur. If it is sour, then it contains a substantial amount.
Proponents of petroleum point to its efficiency and versatility as reasons why this product gives us numerous advantages. Critics suggest that we are at a place where renewable energy resources can provide similar impacts. There are several crucial points to consider when looking at this natural product.
List of the Advantages of Petroleum
1. Petroleum provides us with a stable resource for multiple industries.
We have learned how to refine hydrocarbons in recent years, but humanity has embraced the use of this product for over 6,000 years. Some of the earliest shipwrecks that we have discovered have petroleum products that worked to caulk the natural materials to create a water-resistant seal. We’ve also used the liquid for medicinal purposes. The Chinese even built primitive indoor plumbing more than 1,000 years ago to pipe the substance in to provide light and heat.
2. The usefulness of petroleum keeps growing.
We continue to find new ways to use petroleum. How we’ve used hydrocarbons over the years might change occasionally, but the energy it provides us is as consistent today as it was when early humans first started to use it. The fuel is stable, even in storage, and that advantage allows us to create predictable outcomes once we can harvest petroleum from the rock strata, tar sands, or seeps where it occurs naturally.
3. We use petroleum to make renewable energy products.
Critics might point out that the consumption of hydrocarbons is a leading indicator of global warming changes, but we also need petroleum to create the collectors for renewable energies as well. We wouldn’t have solar panels or wind turbines without the presence of this natural product. Over 100 liters of petroleum are necessary to create a single photovoltaic panel that collects sunlight for energy. That consumption level means it takes over two years of service for each panel to create a neutral carbon emissions experience. We must create more emissions to build a world where fewer of them are created over time.
4. Petroleum contains a high-density energy rating.
Petroleum has one of the highest density ratings of any fossil fuel that we use for energy today. We receive a 1-to-10,000 ratio with this liquid without release particulates into the atmosphere like coal would in the same situation. Critics would point out that nuclear energy far exceeds this ratio, but no other fossil fuel comes close to what we receive from hydrocarbons. You won’t find issues with radiation when you consume this fuel either.
The advantage here is that the high density levels of the hydrocarbons make it possible for a refinery to turn the liquid into several different consumables or fuels. It is a valuable commodity because most of us consume products that come from this industry every day. That’s why there are millions of barrels of crude oil that the world uses each day. This fuel is how we manage the modern lifestyle.
5. It is cheap to obtain.
The technologies that we use right now to harvest hydrocarbons from the ground make it an affordable commodity for the average person to use. If a barrel of oil trades for at least $30 on the open market, then manufacturers and producers have a chance to turn a profit. Because oil is widely available to most markets, we can always access the full potential of this fuel whenever we need it.
6. We can extract petroleum from rock strata with little difficulty.
Petroleum hunters look at the untapped rock strata in various geographic locations to determine if there could be usable hydrocarbons trapped underneath that are obtainable. Then we drill into this layer to build up pressure that releases the liquid upward so that we can capture it. Hydraulic fracking is a common method used for harvesting this resource today, but we can also dig deep wells that allow us to use the seeping process as well. Shale and tar sands release petroleum as well in a variety of ways too. This advantage helps us to maximize our production levels while minimizing the overall costs.
7. We would struggle to manage our daily schedule without petroleum.
Our societal infrastructure around the world is built on the foundation of petroleum. We use hydrocarbons to create so many different products that it would be a very different marketplace without it. We use this liquid for our daily requirements in part because implementing a new system would create even higher environmental costs in the short-term, and maybe even in long-term models as well.
Fuels will always release emissions when they go through the combustion process. We can make up this investment in time with renewable energy, but it makes more sense to take a slow approach while maintaining the advantages of petroleum instead of dropping it instantly because it might be “bad.”
8. Millions of people around the world have a job because of petroleum.
Petroleum supports millions of direct and indirect employment opportunities around the world every day. Every position is related to hydrocarbon consumption in some way. If you use plastic products in anything, from computers to an automobile, then you are taking part in this economy. Using electricity at work connects you to the people who harvest this liquid to fuel our everyday life. Soap, heating fuel, and even lithium-ion batteries all are part of this economy as well.
There are thousands of different products that we use because of how processors can use hydrocarbons today. Many of these items are things we take for granted. Even critics admit that life would not be as easy as it is today if we stopped using this liquid.
9. Almost every product you use regularly is tied to petroleum in some way.
The list of products that we can make with hydrocarbons stands at more than 6,000. The way that the petroleum industry can manipulate hydrocarbons means that you can use this liquid for everything from a driveway sealant to a computer casing. One of the most common reasons why we purchase this fuel is so that we can meet our transportation needs. Although there are some plant-based hydrocarbons that can go through the same manipulation process, petroleum is easier to process, cheaper to use, and more common in the marketplace today.
10. Petroleum transports better than other fuel resources.
We can haul millions of gallons of petroleum around the world without suffering a significant energy loss unless a spill occurs. Pipelines can transport hundreds of thousands of barrels each day without causing the hydrocarbons to suffer from a loss of energy potential. The usefulness of this fluid remains the same, whereas some fuels are expected to lose 20% to 50% of their total potential while in transport to a refiner.
This advantage is the reason why we can access remote areas for petroleum production while putting down a minimum amount of infrastructure. The transportation capacity of this fuel resource makes it much easier to move it to where we need it to be.
11. There are potential medical applications for petroleum.
Petroleum was a staple in ancient Chinese medicine. What you may not realize is that this advantage still exists today. Most homes have at least one container of petroleum jelly, which offers over 20 different benefits. It can encourage the healing process for minor burns and scrapes, act as a moisturizer, and prevent certain skin rashes. If you’re having trouble with split ends in your hair, then you can save it with the product too. It works to prevent peeling and chafing while managing specific conditions, such as eczema.
You will find petroleum-based hydrocarbons in everything from denture paste to hydrocortisone products. We can even create synthetic textile fibers from this liquid.
12. There are several different grades from which to choose.
Petroleum reservoirs around the world offer different features and qualities to consider when managing the potential of its hydrocarbons. We use sour crude to produce synthetic products, while light options are useful for a variety of fuels. Each standard has a specific use that helps our lives to be easier in some way each day. There might be emissions considerations to evaluate in certain usage situations, but this fuel allows us to create specific results based on the condition in which it is received.
13. We can restore unused oil fields to usable land once again.
Oil wells might provide stress on the land while we harvest the hydrocarbons waiting below, but we also have the opportunity to restore the Earth once a location runs dry. A complete renovation can occur in less than one year when there is an effort to plant a new habitat or build recreational trails. Even older offshore oil platforms can be turned into artificial reefs to create new living spaces for sea life.
14. We can extract petroleum from the ground safely.
Even though there have been a handful of devastating leaks and spills over the past 20 years that have disrupted the petroleum industry, the process of extraction is relatively safe. We can also protect the environment during this process when the equipment works as intended. Many of the problems that have impacted nature due to the release of hydrocarbons are due to human error or mechanical failure, which means we can improve outcomes with a minimal amount of effort.
List of the Disadvantages of Petroleum
1. The infrastructure of the petroleum industry requires continuous maintenance.
Although petroleum does not lose its energy potential when we move it, our systems are flawed. When a spill does happen, the amount that spills is typically more than what a local environment can manage. That means the quality of the habitats, soil, and even our livelihoods receive adverse impacts when something goes wrong.
The list of damaging events that involve petroleum is lengthy. Over 820,000 tons were spilled into the Persian Gulf during the conflicts in the region during the 1990s. Another 138,000 tons were lost when the Sanchi oil tanker struck another vessel. Thousands of gallons leak from pipelines all over the world. Even the Exxon Valdez disaster, which is considered one of the worst spills in history, cause that devastation with only 37,000 tons of spillage.
2. Petroleum is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.
When there are excessive carbon deposits in our atmosphere, then the energy of the sun that reflects off of the ground does not go back into space. It reflects again, coming back to ground level to increase temperatures. Whether you believe that global warming is a natural cycle or a human-made issue, the acidity that occurs when nitrous oxide mixes with the other emissions impacts our oceans, seasons, and our overall way of life.
3. Exposure to petroleum is toxic for most life on our planet.
The levels of toxicity for some forms of life on our planet is just 0.4% when there is petroleum exposure occurring. Humans are not immune to this issue either because the benzene that is found with hydrocarbons is a known carcinogen. When people work around this liquid on a daily basis, their white blood cell counts gradually diminish. That means they become sicker more quickly and stay ill longer than the average person.
4. Petroleum is a resource that nations go to war over.
Petroleum is a resource that can make individuals, families, and nations wealthy overnight. Some may see this issue as an advantage because it has the power to improve one’s way of life, but it is a product that also inspires conflict. When one group has access to hydrocarbons and another does not, then that relationship can create trade wars, skirmishes, or outright battles. The number of governments that have risen and fallen because of their desire to obtain this refuel is countless.
5. The wealth that petroleum brings is fleeting.
Many of the nations in OPEC found that when the price for a barrel of oil drops below $40, it is almost impossible to generate enough revenues to support the social and economic needs of their population. That’s the reason behind many of the efforts in the Middle East to diversify the economy. If petroleum prices tank, then unemployment levels rise. There is less spending at the local level, which means businesses stop functioning. Many of the economic problems that Venezuela is currently experiencing is due to overspending when oil prices were high without having a plan to cope when they became lower.
6. Hydrocarbons change the composition of ocean water.
If petroleum comes into contact with sea life, then death almost always occurs. The same reasons why the atmosphere becomes more acidic happens in the water. It only takes a small change to the natural pH levels to make a massive and adverse on local habitats. Over the past 200 years, there has been a 25% increase in the acidity levels of this water. When you add in the thousands of tons of plastic debris in the ocean that is present because of petroleum as well, then we increase the risk of consuming it ourselves.
7. Fossil fuels are a finite resource.
Baby Boomers can remember multiple releases from the government that stated we had about 30 years of petroleum left to use. We continue to find new resources that allow us to tap into new reserves that let us keep using hydrocarbons, but our society continues to operate on a 50-year deadline. We could potentially run out by 2075 if there are no more new production areas that we can develop to harvest petroleum. That’s why we must think about creating products that let us use the power from renewables now instead of when it is too late. Even if we don’t run out of this product, a growing population means higher levels of demand will be present. That means there will be more scarcity in the marketplace, so products and fuel will continue to cost more.
The issue that we have with hydrocarbons and petroleum in general is that we are almost solely dependent on the products and fuels that it makes. Even renewables require this fossil fuel to create usable energy. Some countries have already discovered that there is an urgent need to begin diversification. The rest of the world will catch up soon.
That’s why the advantages and disadvantages of petroleum require us to balance our energy needs right now. It is our duty to leave our planet in a better condition than we found it. By evaluating these key points at the local level, it will be possible to create more chances for future generations to chase their dreams.
Keith Miller has over 25 years experience as a CEO and serial entrepreneur. As an entreprenuer, he has founded several multi-million dollar companies. As a writer, Keith's work has been mentioned in CIO Magazine, Workable, BizTech, and The Charlotte Observer. If you have any questions about the content of this blog post, then please send our content editing team a message here.