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Impacts of Extracting Fossil Fuels and Biodegradable Alternatives

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Sciences
Wordcount: 3117 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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Are you aware of the impacts of fossil fuels?



Fossil Fuels

Why do we need fossil fuels?


The extraction of crude oil.

Hydraulic fracturing

The impact of oil extraction (Hydraulic fracturing)




The world runs on extracted fuels, it is used to generate energy for our cars, airplanes other modes of transport, but also to create raw materials for everyday items; those of which may include Vaseline, lipsticks, paints, and plastics. The uses for fossil fuels appear almost endless, the supply, however, is not. As fossil fuels are formed over millions of years underground, humans are using them at a faster rate than they are forming. The problems arise from the fact that fossil fuels are a finite/non-renewable resource. This essay will discuss the problems of extracting fossil fuels, why we depend on them, and the biodegradable alternatives that can be offered today. Crude oil and the process of extracting it (hydraulic fracturing) will be the focus of this report.

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Fossil Fuels

Why do we need fossil fuels?

Fossil fuels can be converted into energy for human use. This is typically through a type of chemical reaction called combustion (the rapid chemical combination of a substance with oxygen) where heat and light energy is produced from the reactants involved in the process. This reaction is often exothermic which means that it emits heat energy, rather than endothermic which means that it absorbs heat energy.

There are many different types of fossil fuels that are used today. All these fossil fuels are known as hydrocarbons, they are compounds formed using mostly hydrogen and carbon.

Coal is formed from the decayed plants and ferns before the dinosaur era. Layers of water and soil that build up on top of these layers along with high pressure and temperature cause the decayed matter to undergo chemical and physical changes which push the oxygen out. These further compresses to form the coal of today.

Peat is coal from an earlier stage of its formation. It is usually formed in areas where there was poor drainage. This along with continual growth of vegetation and low levels of oxygen lead to the formation of peatlands.

Oil and gas were formed by the decay of microscopic organisms that lived in the ocean years ago. When they sink down to the bottom of the ocean floor, they are covered by a layer of sand and silt. This along with the pressure of the heavy body of water and the heat from the mantle layer below, help to eventually form these oils and gases. Natural gas consists of methane gas (CH4) but may also contain other gases such as butane or propane (all from the alkane functional group)


The extraction of crude oil.

Petroleum describes both the mixture of hydrocarbons in crude oil, the gases, and solids dissolved in the liquid and the free gas (natural gas) often associated with it.

Oil can be converted into energy for human use. For example, the cars that are used as transportation, most of them depend on fossil fuels to run efficiently. The chemical reaction which takes place in cars is called combustion (the rapid chemical combination of a substance with oxygen) where heat and light energy is produced from the reactants involved in the process. In a car this happens in the engine cylinders, where the two reactants are gasoline (from the fuel injector) and oxygen (from the intake valve). The two reactants are mixed together before ignited, forming gases which expand and push a piston. However, as aforementioned, combustion is an exothermic reaction, which means that after the reaction takes place, heat and light energy is released. In a car this may cause the metal inside to deform or melt. To combat this problem, a liquid with a high boiling point and a low freezing point is circulated in the car engine to absorb all the heat released from the reaction.

There are four steps that an energy source goes through before it can be used by

(hydraulic fracking site)

humans. Those steps are Exploration; finding the energy source; Extraction, removing the resource from the earth; Processing, turning the resource into a usable form; Refining, fractional distillation. This essay will focus on the extraction of oil.

Hydraulic fracturing

After the oil is located deep beneath the earth. (this is usually underground or under the sea) the crude oil must be extracted through drilling techniques.

As the petroleum is trapped in large amounts into one area of permeable rock (soft; limestone, for example) and trapped under impermeable rock (granite) usually it is possible to drill vertically to reach the resource deposit. However, when the fossil fuels are located within impermeable rocks like shale or granite, an extraction technique called hydraulic fracturing can be utilized to fracture the stratum of hard rock to get the oil/gas out.

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The process begins with drilling down vertically for about 2km, perpendicular to where the crude oil deposit is located before gradually drilling for another 3km horizontally. This method allows for one single site to extract the many pockets of resources. The hole drilled is called a borehole and this is slicked with a layer of concrete for easier extraction of oil. Along the horizontal stratum, many small perforations are enlarged using a type of fracking fluid called slickwater (a mixture of water, sand, and additives). This substance is pumped at high pressure (over 600 atmospheres) to secure the fractures made throughout the layer of shale and natural resources. After these proppants (sand/solid materials) are deposited to keep the fissures from closing and resulting in the free flow of oil and gas. A wellhead/drilling rig is fixed at the top of the borehole to control and capture the release of valuable material.

(fracking fluid (Frack Tracker Alliance, 2019)

Throughout the fracking process, up to 10 million litres of fracking fluid may be pumped down into each borehole. The additives/compounds added into the fracking fluid is fully dependent on the area the fracking zone is located and the resources available on hand. Some of these include Biocide, which rids the product of bacteria; Acid (namely hydrochloric acid), which helps to dissolve materials to initiate fissure in the rock; a buffer helps to keep the pH of the fluid constant/unchanging; gelling agents thicken the water to help the sand force open the perforations.

The waste or the flowback liquid after the fracturing process is collected in pits/impoundments near the fracking site, buried underground in wells or disposed at wastewater treatment facilities.

Hydraulic fracturing or otherwise known as ‘fracking’ is most commonly used in the shale reserves in the United States. There are many large shale areas in the eastern states, namely the Marcellus shale fields of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.

Offshore drilling

Offshore drilling refers to the drilling/ extraction done on the continental shelf; however, this term is also used for drilling/ extraction done in other underwater areas; this includes lakes and rivers. The type of rig used at these offshore drilling sites depends on many factors i.e. the depth at the location, the type of oil and prevailing condition. The most common types of technology used in offshore drilling include; drilling barges (used for shallow water drilling/lakes and rivers, anchors positions the barges where the drilling is to take place), drill ships (are maritime vessels capable of drilling wells in oil and gas fields, they are most suitable for complete offshore drilling solutions like the middle of the ocean floor), jack up rigs (their giant legs position and embed the drilling structures deep into the ocean floor, because they are more reliable than floating rigs, they then, as a result, are able to drill up to 100 meters).

The impact of oil extraction (Hydraulic fracturing)

(Assembly, 2019) fracking’s impact on local quality of life.

There are many benefits to this method of oil extraction. From a commercial standpoint, fracking is considered highly successful (this is characterized in its widespread use; especially in the United States) and as the most economical way of mining oil. Fracking encourages a boom in the economy. Since the United States government has decided to use it to extract US oil, the country is not as dependent on other natural resource-rich countries such as Saudi Arabia or Russia and as a result, this technique of oil extraction can often help to bring down gas and oil prices in a country. The United States has also subsequently become a prevalent exporter of oil and natural gas today as a result of the benefits of fracking. Hydrofracking also generates more job opportunities for citizens. The entire process involves a lot of steps and is very long. Over the years this practice has brought jobs to countless workers and their families. As a result of this benefit, unemployment in the states involved with oil extraction through hydraulic fracturing is significantly reduced.

The extensive use of hydraulic fracturing, while also revolutionizing the energy industry, has also simultaneously prompted devastating environmental concerns. Firstly, fracking is harmful to the environment and subsequently the people. The process of extraction may not be emitting as much carbon into the air but the transportation of the collected crude oil and gas (oil tankers) also burn fossil fuels and emit carbon. The tankers involved are also flammable, thus, explosions and casualties are probable.

The noise of the drilling and other stages of the extraction negatively affect the locals living around the fracking zone. There may also be an increase in the number of small earthquakes in the area. When the extraction process is taking place, up to 1.5-16 million gallons of fresh water is pumped from local water sources i.e. rivers, lakes, underground water reserves. This may often quickly deplete the water supply of the local environment. Moreover, this will greatly affect the people by raising the price of
water (water tax); especially in some parts of a country experiencing drought.

Most protesters against fracking also argue that there is a high possibility that these fracking activities may contaminate the drinking water and subsequently cause devastating health hazards to the people of the community.

Some days, the air would smell acrid, sharp like bleach, and I would hurry from the car into the house. Other days, the wind seemed normal, unremarkable. I didn’t know why.

Alison Stine, ‘The Guardian’ newspaper.

The by-product of fracking is a sludge of leftover toxic chemicals and unusable water. This is then injected deep into the grounds of injection wells with porous rock. (an example of this would be the Hazel Ginsburg well). Through contaminating the environment with chemicals, the toxic wastewater may threaten agriculture and the tourism facilities (water-sports and scenery) which the local economy may depend on.

Although offshore drilling offers access to untapped oil reserves (and subsequently allows some nations to depend less on other natural resources from importing), there are also many negative effects to be considered. Often offshore drilling can be very dangerous if not conducted properly. This is characterized in explosions, rigs capsizing and even fatal casualties for the workers involved in the project. As the drilling process takes place offshore and usually on the sea, the rigs are extremely vulnerable to the unrelenting weather conditions they may face. Pollution is the direst environmental effect of offshore drilling. The most common pollution contributors are oil spills relating to poorly maintained and operated rigs. This will disrupt the ocean ecology of the affected area and devastate local ecosystems i.e. the ocean life and then subsequently the fisheries industry.


To conclude, hydraulic fracturing or fracking is possibly one of the most controversial energy discoveries made in the last half century. The benefits are significant to a country desperately in need of a boom in their economy. It reduces a country’s dependence on importation and allows it to become an exporter instead (this then subsequently lowers the unemployment rate). However, as discussed in this essay, hydraulic fracking also prompts serious environmental concerns; this is illustrated in the noise pollution, quakes produced from the extraction process, carbon produced from transportation of product and contamination of local water reserves. Fortunately, there are many alternatives to hydraulic fracturing. Although they may be more costly, these cleaner, and low carbon gas and heat providing alternatives may be more beneficial in the long-term. They include; ground source and air source heat pumps (for domestic buildings using electricity), shallow geothermal heat storage (heat pumps to store heat in underground rocks) and biomethane (created from waste, for example farm and food waste through anaerobic digestion) This technology is already well established in many other European countries (Germany, Sweden, UK) and could replace the fracking sites of today.


  • Assembly, C. (2019). We Have Right to Know What’s in Fracking Fluid. [online] Fracking Companies Suck Life Like Parasites Suck Blood. Available at: https://frackingsucks.wordpress.com/2014/07/29/we-have-right-to-know-whats-in-fracking-fluid/ [Accessed 27 May 2019].
  • “Is Hydraulic Fracking Going To Destroy Important Ecosystems? – Justscience”. Justscience, 2019, http://www.justscience.in/articles/hydraulic-fracking-going-destroy-important-ecosystems/2017/12/19. Accessed 26 May 2019.
  • “Safe, Low Carbon, Inexpensive: The Renewable Alternatives To Fracking”. The Ecologist, 2019, https://theecologist.org/2015/jul/08/safe-low-carbon-inexpensive-renewable-alternatives-fracking. Accessed 25 May 2019.
  • “7 Advantages And Disadvantages Of Fracking”. Futureofworking.Com, 2019, https://futureofworking.com/7-advantages-and-disadvantages-of-fracking/. Accessed 25 May 2019.
  • Chubbuck, Cynthia. “Under The Hood: The Chemistry Of Cars – Cynthia Chubbuck”. Youtube, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9vfMrjitXw. Accessed 26 May 2019.
  • FracTracker Alliance. (2019). What is fracking fluid? – FracTracker Alliance. [online] Available at: https://www.fractracker.org/resources/oil-and-gas-101/fracking-fluid/ [Accessed 26 May 2019].
  • Lichtarowicz, Marek. “Extracting Crude Oil And Natural Gas”. Essentialchemicalindustry.Org, 2019, http://www.essentialchemicalindustry.org/processes/extracting-oil-and-natural-gas-fracking.html. Accessed 25 May 2019.
  • “Offshore Oil | Student Energy”. Studentenergy.Org, 2019, https://www.studentenergy.org/topics/offshore-oil. Accessed 27 May 2019.
  • Stine, Alison. “Far Away From Any Witnesses, My Small Town Is Being Poisoned By Fracking Waste”. The Guardian, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/sep/21/appalachia-ohio-fracking-wells-toxic. Accessed 25 May 2019.
  • Some days, the air would smell acrid, sharp like bleach, and I would hurry from the car into the house. Other days, the wind seemed normal, unremarkable. I didn’t know why.


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