Oil addiction will be our demise - paying the price (pt 3/4)
By Staci-lee Sherwood
Nothing in life is free everything has a price. For the modern world the price of oil comes in many forms. Many political, environmental, economical and health costs can be traced back to the black gold discovered nearly two centuries ago. The gooey substance that bubbles out of the earth goes through many stages before it becomes an end product. Crude oil is refined to make gasoline but products made from plastic, vinyl and rubber go through several forms before reaching their final destination.
At each point of heating, refining and manufacturing is a chance for toxic chemicals to be released into the air we breathe or leak into the water we drink and soil we grow food in. Take water and soil samples near a refinery or any manufacturing plant of one of their by-products and you see why it’s dangerous to live anywhere near them. You can imagine the exposure the workers experience.
*Cover photo: Gas station in Portland, Oregon during the early morning hours of pumping when gas was limited on a first-come, first served basis to five gallons per car during the 1973 gas crisis. In the 50 years since the first gas crisis, neither party has done anything meaningful that moves us away from oil and all the by-products we are equally dependent on. It will all come full circle and we are not ready.
Effects on climate
The greatest threat to the earth is fossil fuel. From cradle to grave it’s deadly. Melting permafrost, rising tides and warming oceans have already started to show the impending crisis we will all suffer. The bigger hurricanes, year round fire seasons, 1 in 1000 year floods and droughts the world hasn’t seen in centuries is just chapter 1. It will get much worse as human behavior has forever changed and damaged the planet.
The current landscape is a preview of what all living beings will encounter and have to adapt to or perish. There is no going back there is no planet B. Chemicals released during the refining of oil are a huge contributor to Green House Gases. This in turn thins the protective ozone layer which then heats up the planet making heat waves, droughts and wildfires worse. This also removes the protection we have from the Sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays. The cycle feeds on itself as each problem makes each other problem exponentially worse.
Toxic water & dirty air
Water pollution from oil drilling is well known despite denials from industry. Oil spilled into water is near impossible to remove. Consider the movement of water and length of time these cleanups take to start. You know how hard it is to remove all the coffee or red wine from clothing minutes after you spill it, now imagine that is oil moving in water days or sometimes years later….For a better explanation click here and you’ll see how the truth differs from industry spin.
You might not know how other forms polluted water makes its way into your life. If you buy produce from California’s Central Valley you should re-think that. The state allows fruits and vegetables to be irrigated with wastewater from oil & gas drilling. The state produces 40% of the nation's fruits and vegetables, and since few people wanted to regulate food with detailed labels who knows where or what your oranges are grown in. This might go on in other states but California is the largest producer of produce that allows this and has for many decades without informing the public.
This is from a report from the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit that publishes many in-depth reports on water and food safety you will never hear about in the ‘news’. ‘The lightly treated wastewater is blended with fresh water and then applied to almonds, pistachios and citrus trees along with grapes, carrots, beans, tomatoes and potatoes grown in the Cawelo, North Kern, Jasmin and Kern-Tulare Water Districts in Kern and Tulare Counties. One of the permits allows the water to be used as drinking water for livestock and apparently for farmed fish.’
What amount of oil wastewater is safe to use on crops? None…..because it’s oil and NO amount of dilution is safe to consume. Food shouldn’t just look healthy and safe it should be healthy and safe.
How much water usage goes into the refining and manufacturing process? It takes 1.5 gallons of water to produce 1 gallon of oil. It takes about 7 gallons of oil to produce 1 standard rubber tire. That means 1 tire takes 10.5 gallons of water to produce, so 4 tires on a car means 28 gallons of oil and 42 gallons of water used. Now think about all the 18 wheel trucks on the road and the amount of water used just for tires is staggering. To see more about water usage in the energy sector click here (from 2017) https://www.watercalculator.org/footprint/the-water-footprint-of-energy/
In 2017 a study done by Dept of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimated the US withdrew one to two billion gallons of water to refine nearly 800 million gallons of petroleum products like gasoline every day. All of that water would be contaminated and unrecyclable regardless what industry or corrupted government says. Now think of the severe global droughts we have in 2022. Water is fast disappearing and we can no longer count on it always being there.
Air pollution related to oil refineries is as bad or worse than water contamination. Oil refineries are a major source of pollutants including the BTEX compounds (Benzene, Toulene, Ethylbenzene and Xylene). These are known carcinogens released along with Nitrogen Oxide, Carbon Monoxide, Hydrogen Sulfide and Sulfur Dioxide. Methane, a big Green House Gas contributor, is also released.
Everything is absorbed into the air. Wind and storms move the air all over the globe and all those absorbed chemicals come down with rain. This pollutes a new area often far away from the original source of contamination. These caustic chemicals add to the thinning of the ozone layer. As the ozone thins the rate of skin cancer soars, more crops fail and a host of other health problems follow.
Oil spills are the gift that keeps on giving long after the lawsuits end. Take the Exxon Valdez in 1989 that devastated Prince William Sound. It’s estimated 250,000 sea birds, 3,000 otters, 300 seals, 250 bald eagles and 22 killer whales were killed. This omits all the fish that died and all the future generations that will never be born. This number does not include all the animals that will starve from loss of food, will get sick from toxic water and have stillborn births. Factor all that in and the number will jump to billions.
Exxon Valdez 1989
The British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon catastrophic nightmare of 2010 destroyed much of the Gulf of Mexico. According to USFWS an estimated endangered Sea Turtle death toll was ‘4,900–7,600 large juvenile and adult sea turtles and between 56,000–166,000 small juvenile sea turtles were killed by the spill. Furthermore, an estimated 35,000 hatchlings were lost due to the effects of the spill and associated clean-up activities on sea turtle nesting beaches.’ These would be Green and Loggerhead sea turtles. Florida is the #1 nesting site for Loggerheads and very important site for Greens whose global population is down about 90% and crashing.
They went on to add that ‘workers observed more than 1,400 marine mammals in the surface slick. All 21 species of cetaceans found in the Gulf were exposed to oil through subsurface, surface, and air contamination’. Again this doesn’t factor the millions of other dead marine life, this only counts the dead animals visible to humans. Typically a very small percentage of dead marine life are ever visible, most either sink to the bottom, are swept away in the gulf stream or deteriorate quickly. The toxic Corexit was sprayed to break up the oil to keep it out of public view and make it appear smaller than it really was. Sea turtles were burned in the cover up. No one really knows the extent of death this caused. Here is more truth. https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/public_lands/energy/dirty_energy_development/oil_and_gas/gulf_oil_spill/a_deadly_toll.html#:~:text=The%20government%20has%20collected%20128,may%20have%20actually%20been%20harmed.
Oil is spilling somewhere every day you just never hear about it. Google oil spills, leaks and accidents and you start to see the magnitude and death toll our addiction has on every other species including our own. Other species shouldn’t have to suffer because of our addiction.
A dolphin dies from the BP spill 2010
Industry allies & by-products
One of the biggest friends to oil is the plastic industry. It’s a by-product so its very existence depends on a steady reliable supply of oil. In 2021 just the US value of the industry was $86 billion, the global market over $593 billion so they aren’t about to give up or go away. They spend millions convincing consumers their products are safe and needed. Industries that have been around for decades, even centuries, have replaced safer material they had used for years with plastic. Auto parts used to be made of steel and rarely wore out, now most are made of plastic. Medical devices, cell phones, furniture, medicine even some fashion all rely on oil to stay in business. Polyester is made into millions of articles of clothing, linens, tablecloths and towels.
Some form of oil is found in most products we use and buy. Getting off oil also means finding clean safe sustainable replacements for plastic, rubber, gas, styrofoam and the billions
of products they’re made into.
Courtesy of the American Petroleum Institute
Think you know all about gasoline, maybe not. In 2021 the US consumed about 135 billion gallons of gasoline. To complete all steps required to produce 1 gallon of gasoline it takes 3 – 6 gallons of water. That means more than 405 billion gallons of water was also consumed just to drive the cars and trucks. Your car doesn’t just guzzle gas it guzzles even more water. Corn ethanol is even worse requiring anywhere from four to several hundred times more water depending on irrigation so it’s not eco friendly at all.
The processing of oil to gasoline in refineries releases the BTEX chemicals, which are benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene all known carcinogens. Many people have an adverse reaction to smelling gasoline and that’s your body alerting you to stay away.
At the beginning of WW2 the US supply of natural rubber which came from SE Asia was cut off. Being a key product used by military and transportation sector, the government had to quickly find a substitute. They turned to leading chemists who came up with a recipe for synthetic rubber. The use of chemicals in manufacturing comes with a price. Synthetic rubber is made using Butadiene and Styrene, a derivative of Benzene, highly toxic and known to cause Cancer.
Modern tires require oil to manufacture. Hundreds of millions of tires are sold in the US for cars, trucks and planes (in 2021 over 335 million). Add all the other uses of rubber and this multi-billion dollar industry is spread far and wide in the economy. Transportation wouldn’t run without it. Producing 1 tire uses 7 gallons of oil, enter the search for ‘greener’ tires.
Notorious Osborne Reef in Ft Lauderdale, Florida a dumping ground of 2 million tires strewn across the ocean floor since 1972. The tires are damaging coral reefs and leeching the toxic chemicals it’s made from. Of course this ‘reef’ is a dead zone.
If you use this as a beauty product you might want to reconsider. This is sold at Home Depot as equipment lubricant. Petroleum jelly is made from the waxy petroleum material that formed on oil rigs and then distilled. The lighter and thinner oil-based products make up petroleum jelly. The distilled residue is then filtered through bone char to yield petroleum jelly. While petroleum jelly is widely used, it often contains Mineral Oil Aromatic Hydrocarbons (MOHA) and polyaromatics, which may be carcinogenic. Many cosmetics contain this ingredient from moisturizers to makeup and shampoos. It pays to read the label.
Should your beauty product also be sold in the hardware store?
Polystyrene, commonly referred to as Styrofoam, is extremely difficult to dispose of properly, and releases dangerous styrene (a derivative of Benzene) into virtually every living being. As early as the 1980s the Environmental Protection Agency demonstrated that styrene was present in 100% of the samples of human fat collected from all lower 48 states. It can’t be recycled and remains in the atmosphere forever. Yet it is still in use today.
The EPA recognized the dangers styrene pose to the central nervous system. It’s considered a human carcinogen by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer. ‘Styrene. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), (May 1994). Provides an Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health (IDLH) document that includes acute toxicity data for styrene.’
The classic use of styrofoam
Over the years vinyl siding has become a popular way to preserve a house that’s relatively cheap and easy to clean. How cheap is it really when you add all the environmental damage manufacturing does, the health problems it causes workers and the toxicity leeched into water, air and land when discarded? One of the biggest dangers is when vinyl is burned. If one of these houses goes up in flames known carcinogens like Chlorine gas and Dioxin are released. Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) is used in dozens of products, from toys to carpet to artificial trees. If they were to burn the same deadly chemicals would be released, so safe cool storage for anything made from vinyl is paramount.
Living in a house covered with vinyl siding encapsulated in an oil by-product
Other than gasoline no product has a greater symbiotic relationship to crude oil than plastic. It wouldn’t exist without it. No surprise the oil industry pushes to expand its use. The International Energy Agency said that plastics and other petrochemical products will drive nearly half global oil demand to 2050. Big oil is preparing to meet that demand, and not just in the U.S. “Plastic production is the plan B for the fossil fuel industry,” said Judith Enck, president and founder of the nonprofit advocacy group Beyond Plastics.
Dire warnings that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean might come true sooner. According to a 2019 report done by Yale School of the Environment oil use in plastic is about 14%.
Less than 10% of all plastic ever made has been recycled. Many animals especially birds mistake micro bits of plastic for food often feeding their chicks with it. Necropsies of Sea Turtle hatchlings show many with a belly full of plastic and nothing else. More than 180 species of animals have been documented to ingest plastic debris, including birds, fish, turtles and marine mammals. First the animals starve when the plastic fills their stomachs taking up room needed for food, then poisoned by the toxins released. When other animals come to consume these dead animals the poison travels through the food web.
More than 8 million tons of plastic pollution enters the ocean every year
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is 1 of 5 ocean plastic accumulation zones and is twice the size of Texas. It’s estimated to hold 80,000 tons of plastic but that is hard to measure.
The global plastic market share was valued at $593 billion in 2021 with the US share being $86 billion. Expected expansion is a rate of 3.7% from 2022 to 2030. Alan Gelder, of Wood Mackenzie, forecasts that every year through 2050, will be 10 million metric tons of growth in the market for petrochemicals.
You could write a 1000 page book on the downside of plastic and still not cover everything. Most of the toxins associated with rubber are the same with plastic adding Dioxin. When PVC (Polyvinyl chloride) is incinerated it releases Dioxin. Once in the air it travels the world. According to the World Health Organization, Dioxin accumulates in the fatty tissue of animals. ‘More than 90% of human exposure is through food, mainly meat and dairy products, fish and shellfish.’ Industry discharge of Dioxin has contaminated Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, which was declared a ‘dead lake’ in the 1960s due to pollution. Click here to read more about toxic exposure.
A little compassion goes a long way
Most people don’t think of chemicals when they think clothing. Textiles used to be all natural but not anymore. Many clothes made with cotton, linen and wool can also be made with a little polyester or nylon to make them wrinkle free and help keep their shape. When you think of the clothes you wear or sheets you sleep on do you really want to be engulfed by an oil by-product?
Cheaper and easier to clean isn’t always a bargain
If you have a baby at home reconsider using mineral oil, especially the Johnson & Johnson baby oil, yep it’s another danger lurking in your cabinet. Baby oil is fragranced mineral oil, a petroleum by-product. Lately there has been controversy about the use of mineral oils in cosmetics but to use it for newborns is unconscionable. No wonder the company has over 6500 lawsuits regarding their baby talc with asbestos, the company has 0 ethics. If you use mineral oil you should at least read the labels.
Johnson & Johnson baby oil label
When people think of medicine they assume many things. They assume the medicine will help alleviate pain and cure what ails them. They assume the drugs have gone through rigorous testing, research with government oversight, preferably in the US. Most of that does not happen as the Food & Drug Administration is too cozy and corrupted to hold Big Pharma accountable. The shock of seeing the extent that oil and all its by-products have traveled into our lives is staggering and should never have been allowed.
Aspirin has been in use for over a century and the oil industry will no doubt argue that proves using oil in the processing is safe. Aspirin can cause internal bleeding and the rate of cancer has soared in the last century. We don’t know if or to what extent cancer existed before the industrial revolution. Maybe it occurred 1000 years ago and maybe not, most diseases back then were either waterborne, from poor sanitation or rotting food. In modern countries where those issues have been resolved, the related diseases have drastically decreased or been eradicated. Cancer and other diseases related to exposure to chemicals have exploded as the use of oil, coal, pesticides, artificial everything increases too.
There is no level of safety for Benzene or Cumene. What the public isn’t told is that Cumene is used as a thinner for paints, lacquers, and enamels and is a natural component of coal tar and petroleum. Benzene is known to damage cells and the immune system and used to make rubber and pesticides. Cancer is BIG business, see the irony of cancer causing chemicals used in ‘cancer fighting drugs’ courtesy of FDA approval. Get the picture? ‘Petrochemicals cumene, phenol, benzene, and other aromatics are used to make not only aspirin, but also penicillin and cancer-fighting drugs. Ultimately, most drugs are organic molecules made using petrochemical polymer.’
Organic and naturally occurring are favorite industry buzzwords. Many dangerous chemicals and gases happen naturally and remain safe while buried deep in the ground. Once they are dug up, exposed to air, heated at high temperatures and blended with other chemicals do they become dangerous and impossible to ever remove from the atmosphere. This is just industry propaganda spin used to assuage the public they’re safe to use. They know the public won’t be bothered to read labels and research toxicity studies. Other uses of oil can be found in rectal suppositories, cough syrups, lubricants, creams, ointments and salves.
Petrochemicals in medicine - pills, capsules and disposable syringes.
Back in the wild west days of the 18th century many snake oil remedies were sold to unsuspecting people. They didn’t have the internet and cable tv. It’s 2022 and there is no excuse to not be using these tools to make sure you’re not a victim of modern snake oil salesmen. Samuel Kier sold this petroleum product in 1845.
Please click below for part 1 of the series
Please click below for part 2 of the series
Please click below for part 4 of the series
Also published on The Good Men Project September 26, 2022