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Exposure: Crude Oil

Exposure: Crude Oil

by Katherine Fite

Petroleum, also known as crude oil, is a liquid fossil fuel found underground. The oil is formed when the remains of dead organisms are buried deep within Earths rock layer and is subjected to heat and pressure over millions of years. Because of the extremely lengthy amount of time it takes for crude oil to form, it is considered a nonrenewable resource. This irreplaceable natural resource is in high global demand due to its high energy content. Oil has a variety of uses such as fuel, including gasoline, jet fuel, kerosene and diesel fuel. Petroleum is also used in plastics and inks.

Although the United States imports more than half of its consumed oil from foreign countries, we still drill for oil domestically. Most of these oil wells are concentrated in Texas, Alaska and in the ocean off of the Gulf Coast. The oil wells pump the petroleum to the surface where it then sent to refineries to be processed into different types of oils used for fuels and other products. Problems and accidents involving oil well, refineries, and transportation can produce large, widespread oil spills. Oil spills pose a great risk to human and wildlife health.

One can be exposed to petroleum spills in a variety of ways. For one, oil spills can spread through oceans or waterways and wash up on beaches. Beach goers and tourists can absorb petroleum chemicals through skin contact. In addition, oil can contaminate water and soil. People in surrounding areas can ingest petroleum remnants through the consumption of contaminated seafood or drinking water. Lastly, some of the chemicals in crude oil can evaporate and accumulate in the air; where wind carries it long distances into towns and cities. Its relative vapor density is heavier than air, so the chemicals sink into low-lying areas, displacing oxygen. People then inhale these chemicals.

Crude oil is made of a slew of chemicals containing hydrogen, carbon, sulfur, nitrogen, heavy metals and other elements. Many chemicals in petroleum are toxic such as petroleum hydrocarbons and benzene. Benzene is a particularly harmful chemical compound. It is a known carcinogen and mutagen and can produce adverse effects in small concentrations. Long-term exposure of benzene can cause leukemia, immune system damage, blood cell deficiencies, chromosomal abnormalities, memory loss and peripheral nervous system abnormalities. Benzene can also leave a person susceptible to infections and causes increased cardiac stress. Symptoms of acute exposure to petroleum include difficulty breathing, confusion, nausea, dizziness and headaches. In addition, dermal contact with oil can result in skin damage. 

Prolonged exposure produces several other severe health effects. The toxic chemicals can compromise cell structure integrity, cause DNA damage and mutations, and cause liver, kidney, reproductive, immune and nervous system damage. Overall, petroleum usually causes systemic toxicity; meaning the whole body is affected. The multiple paths of exposure and petroleum’s toxicity make it a serious risk to human health.

West Virginia Crude Oil Explosion

By Jason Zheng

On February 17, 2015 the CSX Corp. made a shipment of 100 tankers of crude oil (or three million gallons) from North Dakota to West Virginia. However, 14 of these tanks exploded due to train derailment in Mount Carbon, W VA and almost 1,000 people were evacuated from their homes.

The United States Department of Transportation (DOT) took safety measure to prevent these risks. Docket DOT-OST-2014-0067 states that any shipment of crude oil meeting or exceeding 1,000,000 gallons should we recorded and notify all passing state emergency responders about the shipment. However, big oil companies have dubbed this a “terrorist issues”, being forced to give out private trade secrets of oil.

Let us think of it this way, is it more of a domestic “terrorist act” where big oil companies acknowledge the dangers of shipping oil from one state to another because of its size, problematic transportation methods, and using a unauthorized These risk may harm environmental life, forcibly evacuating the people that live there, and forcing the state and federal to become involved.

According to Reuters, Bakken crude oil ranging from 1 million to 3 million gallons should not even be permitted on the Norfolk Southern line, because this line never carries oil. In addition of ignoring the US DOT regulations, Bakken oils is the most dangerous oil to transfer amongst 86 other oils worldwide as well the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) confirmed that Bakken crude catches fire in a lower temperature than other oils. Nonetheless, big oil companies ignore these regulations to protect their reputation.

To further extend the risk Bakken crude oil, trains that transported these type of oil have been in major accidents in Virginia, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Alabama and Lac-Megantic, Quebec, where 47 people were killed by an explosive derailment in 2013. The DOT has made an evaluation citing the dangers of oil leaking from trains, from 12 in 2008 to 186 in 2014.

There have been numerous warnings and regulations big oil companies failed to follow, nor improve their safety protocols. These oil companies face consequences that can range from losing current and potential partners, more importantly consumers and possibly government interference.

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