Understanding the Environmental Impact of Petroleum

One of the world’s most common fossil fuels, petroleum is used in the production of everything from toothpaste to jet fuel. However, our reliance on this fossil fuel has a devastating environmental effect which extends far beyond oil spills and truck exhaust. This week, we take a closer look at the environmental impact of petroleum.

What is it?

Also known as crude oil, petroleum is a naturally occurring substance which is refined into different fuels. A finite resource, petroleum is obtained through oil drilling, and the use of this fossil fuel is thought to play a major role in global warming. Petroleum is refined for use in a wide range of consumer products from fuels such as gasoline and kerosene, through to things like pharmaceuticals, roofing and whitegoods.


How does it affect the environment?

Once extracted, crude oil has a toxic impact on the environment at all stages of production. From it’s extraction, which is linked to climate change, to its use as a vehicle fuel which releases toxic compounds such as carbon monoxide and methanol into the environment as exhaust, petroleum has a summarily negative impact on the environment. When it is improperly managed or disposed of, petroleum products have a devastating effect on living organisms. The hydrocarbon molecules that make up petroleum products have the ability to disrupt cell function in many living organisms, restricting their ability to carry out normal processes. For humans and mammals, this means developing cancers in almost every organ of the body and for smaller microbes like bacteria, petroleum makes it impossible to break down toxic compounds, so spilled petroleum stays in the soil for a very long time, long enough for hydrocarbons to leach into the groundwater.


How can it be managed?

Bioremediation for petroleum contaminated soil can involve either physically removing and disposing of the contaminated soil, placing a barrier around it to prevent spreading (only viable in instances where it does not pose a threat to groundwater), or treating the soil to neutralise the chemicals either on or offsite.


Alpha Environmental offer a comprehensive range of environmental management solutions including soil testing for petroleum contamination. To learn more about our capabilities, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us by calling 9415 8002.