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Environmental impact of oil and natural gas

Oil and natural gas belong to the class of energy resources that we know as fossil fuels . These fossil fuels are so called because they have been formed from plant and animal fossils that were buried inside the earth’s crust for millennia and have been transformed due to high pressures and temperatures. Oil and natural gas are two of the most used and most coveted fossil fuels by the energy and chemical industry.

Unfortunately, these energy sources are not unlimited and both their extraction, their treatment and their use have negative consequences on the environment and that is precisely why at AgroCorrn we are going to talk to you about the environmental impact of oil and natural gas .

You may also be interested in: Environmental impact of fossil fuels
  1. What is oil
  2. What is the natural gas
  3. The great environmental impact of oil and natural gas

What is oil

Petroleum is a dark colored, oily or viscous liquid with a pungent odor and a higher density than water. It is a mineral liquid that has been confined inside the Earth for hundreds and thousands of years and that has great energy potential.

This dark liquid was formed from marine animal and plant organisms that, when they died, were deposited in the depths of the oceans. It also occurred at the mouths of rivers, lagoons, lakes, and coasts. These remains were degraded by bacterial communities and were being hidden under rocks and sediments. Over time, the pressure exerted by the sediment layers and the ocean were modifying the structure and composition of these remains until they were transformed into hydrocarbons (carbon and hydrogen molecules), sulfur, oxygen, nitrogen and other gases.

On the other hand, that same pressure causes oil to be expelled towards the earth’s surface through channels and crevices in the sedimentary rocks above. The oil can flow directly to the surface or if it encounters a porous and incomprehensible rock it can be stored there, this type of rock is known as storage rock.

However, that first oil or crude , as it is commonly called, that is extracted cannot be used directly. For this, it must be subjected to a refining process, which is mainly based on fractional distillation. By applying different temperatures, products such as methane, ethane, propane, butane, gasoline, kerosene, fuel oil, paraffins or tars are obtained that can be used.

What is the natural gas

The natural gas to the oil like also consists of hydrocarbons . These hydrocarbons are lighter and therefore are in a gaseous state. Natural gas is mostly made up of methane and ethane , although it can also contain propane, butane, and other heavier hydrocarbons. When hydrocarbons are of a higher order than methane, that is, more than one carbon, it is known as rich gas, otherwise it is called dry gas. Natural gas can contain other gases that are considered impurities, such as water vapor, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, hydrogen sulfide, or helium.

Natural gas, like oil, is found in underground reservoirs. It can be associated with oil or it can be found separately. The origin of gas is the same as that of oil and comes from the action of microorganisms on the organic remains stored in the rock . Due to the degradation of the remains, gases were released that were stored inside the Earth and that later gave rise to natural gas.

Learn more about this fossil fuel with this other article on Why natural gas is a non-renewable energy .

The great environmental impact of oil and natural gas

Next, we are going to talk about the main impacts of oil and natural gas on the environment , as well as the impacts that other activities related to them have.

Pollution of the planet

Both the extraction, treatment and consumption of oil and natural gas can contaminate the different basic elements of nature: air, water and land.

As we already know, oil and natural gas are non-renewable energy sources and also contribute to the greenhouse effect . Its combustion emits greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) or methane among others, which accumulate in the atmosphere and favor global warming . Oil and natural gas are used in many daily activities (transportation, heating, etc.) and industrial activities. Although it is true that the combustion of natural gas produces less carbon dioxide than oil (around 15-20% less CO2 than gasoline), it does release other highly polluting gases such as mercury and oxides of nitrogen and sulfur that also are responsible for phenomena such as acid rain andthe smog . During its extraction, gases and particles are also eliminated that increase atmospheric pollution .

On the other hand, its extraction and transport also produce water pollution and also pollution of the surrounding soils . Its extraction in many cases entails the fracturing of the land and this can cause gas and oil to leak into groundwater and seas. In addition, the fact of fracturing the ground causes the soil to be lost and it is more susceptible to erosion, due to its contamination produced by the addition of substances to extract black gold and its remains after passing through the material. rocky.

The transport of these two fossil fuels also entails risks for the environment such as leaks or accidents, the construction of oil and gas pipelines and the emissions of the vehicles that transport them to the industries or places where they are going to be treated.

To give a more concrete example, here you can learn about a type of serious pollution that oil can produce: oil slicks .

Oil and gas pipelines

Oil and gas pipelines are the networks of pipelines that are built to transport oil and natural gas, respectively, from the point of extraction to the place of refining or treatment. As can be deduced, this is closely related to the previous section since its transport carries risks of leaks and accidents that can contaminate any place.

In addition, it must be taken into account that the deposits are normally located in areas very far from cities and inhospitable and uninhabited places (deserts, jungles, oceans), therefore, these pipes are of immense length. The construction of oil and gas pipelines also entails other environmental impacts and can represent a barrier to the movement of species in the ecosystems they pass through.


Accidents such as that of the oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010 or the accident of the Prestige ship in 2002 that transported oil off the Galician coast have very negative impacts on the environment. These accidents and many others throughout history have caused the death of many living beings (especially birds), have polluted the waters and beaches for many years and have affected the socio-economic activities of the areas. In many cases, these accidents are caused by a lack of investment in quality infrastructure and surveillance work, as well as human carelessness and, above all, a lack of environmental awareness. In other cases, spills are intentionally produced, which is even more worrying.

In this other post from AgroCorrn we show you 7 natural disasters caused by man .


Fracking is a technique that is very much in vogue and is based on the generation of cracks in the rock to increase extraction and encourage both oil and natural gas to flow out through a well. Through this method, high pressure water is injected to open a controlled fracture at the bottom of the well. An additional problem is the introduction of chemicals that are added in this phase of production and that also escape into the atmosphere.

Among the environmental impacts of this technique, the contamination of aquifers and groundwater, the high consumption of water, noise pollution, the atmosphere and the soil due to the movement of gases and chemical products and discharges and also the generation from tremors or seismic movements. It can also have effects on the health of workers and the inhabitants of the environment

Deforestation and loss of biodiversity

As we have mentioned before, accidents can cause the death and poisoning of many living beings. In addition, the exploration of both resources entails the construction of oil plants that disturb the species and cause them to move to other places or, in other cases, prevent their movement, since these infrastructures represent a barrier to migration. On the other hand, ecosystems are also polluted due to discharges, the use of chemical products and the gases and waste that are generated, endangering communities of living beings and causing loss of biodiversity .

The extraction of oil and natural gas also contributes to the deforestation of the planet, since in many cases the oil fields are located in the depths of the jungles and forests, which is why it is necessary to cut down the trees. This supposes the destruction of numerous habitats and ecological functions, as well as the threat to the survival of the species that inhabit there.

Here you can learn more about the Causes of deforestation .

Other impacts

There are other kinds of impacts that derive from these resources, especially oil. This is not only used as fuel, but also as a raw material for the petrochemical industry . For example, 60% of the chemical products and 80% of the organic products that are marketed come from the petrochemical industry. Some examples of these products are fertilizers, plastics, antifreeze liquids, detergents and soaps, rubbers, colorants, explosives, solvents, gasoline, paraffins, plasticizing fibers and others. The production of these substances generates even more toxic chemicals and the presence of these materials or products in the environment also pose a serious environmental problem such as the problem of plastics today.

If you want to read more articles similar to Environmental impact of oil and natural gas , we recommend that you enter our Pollution category .

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