Wednesday, April 20, 2011

April 20, 2010, a Day To Remember that Oil is Much Dirtier Than Natural Gas

One year ago today 4.7 million barrels of oil began pouring into the Gulf of Mexico when the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded.  One out of control oil well killed eleven workers and devastated the environment and economy of the Gulf and 4 states.

 Had the Deepwater Horizon spill involved only gas, eleven workers would have tragically died but the impact on the environment and economy of the Gulf would have been much, much less.  No oil covered wildlife. No impacts on shrimping and fishing.  Natural gas is less damaging than oil when it gets where it is not supposed to be, though reducing gas migration cases is a top priority.

And of course oil spills, big and small, happen everyday all around the world.  The Exxon Valdez spilled 257,000 barrels into Prince William Sound.  That disaster killed 250,000 birds.

Closer to home in Pennsylvania, the Delaware River has been assaulted by oil spills for decades. 

To focus on just some of the big ones, in November 2004, the Athos 1, a single hull tanker was punctured and the Coast Guard put the final spill estimate at 265,000 gallons.  PSEG shut down a nuclear reactor for two days as a result.  Birds were killed. 

Then there was the 1976 tanker spill that released 130,000 gallons into the Delaware River.  Of course don't forget the plumes of oil under the city of Philadelphia that have leaked into the ground from oil refining operations.  And just in Pennsylvania there are thousands of oil tanks underground, abandoned, and leaking product into ground water.

Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research says in today's Philadelphia Inquirer that it alone has been part of bird rescues at 150 oil spills in 8 countries in two decades. 

Tri-State also recounts since the BP oil spill that it has gone to an oil spill at the Potomac River; and oil spill at the Delaware Memorial Bridge; and saved two ducks that encounterd oil in Lower Moreland Township in Montgomery County. Interestingly, to my knowledge most of these "routine," daily oil spills trigger very little media or public attention.

With the intense focus on gas drilling comes the risk of forgetting how much dirtier oil and coal inherently are.  Natural gas has impacts but they are less. 

Using more natural gas and less oil and coal will lessen the environmental impact of our energy production and consumption on the environment.


  1. Related subject, but would be interested in your thoughts about yesterday's story of the municipalities having issues with trihalomethanes based on the bromide discharges. Didn't seem to be exceedances, based on what I saw (0.06-0.07 mg/L) vs. a 0.08 mg/L standard, but it surely made the headlines.

  2. Sure you are aware of Cheseapeake Energy's Natural Gas disaster in Bradford County in Pa last night into today that has dumped thousands of gallons of chemically laced FRACKING Fluids, contaminating creeks and streams...not sure we should be comparing Oil to Gas, trying to decide which is more vile....both are one and the same of the same industry that cuts corners, takes risks in the name of PROFITS....IE, look at how intimately involved in both Halliburton is. Both are bad, and lets work to educate all people on just how destructive both these fossil fuels can be, and are.

  3. I am strongly supportive of energy efficiency and renewables. Nobody has done more to create more than 20 operating wind farms and 4,000 solar facilities in Pennsylvania. I also did a great deal to get Act 129 passed, Pennsylvania's big and important electricity efficiency program. I also buy 100% wind energy for my home's power needs. So I agree about the importance of efficiency and renewables. And both should be further accelerated. Having said that, we are in a world where 80% of our total energy comes from Coal, Petroleum, and Natural gas. All fossil fuels have environmental impacts, as do wind and even solar. But the impacts just are not the same magnitude or type. Pretending otherwise is not a service to anyone and is a disservice to the environment and human health. There is no doubt that in order from high to low impact the fuels are: coal, oil, natural gas. For the minimum of the next 10 years and probably 20 years saying no to natural gas means saying yes to more coal and oil.