Issues in Petroleum Operations

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Petroleum hydrocarbons are considered to be the backbone of the modern economy. The petroleum industry that took off from the golden era of the 1930s never ceased to dominate all aspects of our society. Until now, there were no suitable alternatives to fossil fuels and all trends indicated a continued dominance of the petroleum industry in the foreseeable future (Service 2005). Even though petroleum operations have been based on solid scientific excellence and engineering marvels, only recently it has been discovered that many of the practices are not environmentally sustainable. Practically all activities of hydrocarbon operations are accompanied by undesirable discharges of liquid, solid, and gaseous wastes (Khan and Islam 2007), which have enormous impacts on the environment (Khan and Islam 2003a; Khan and Islam 2006b; Chhetri et al. 2007). Hence, reducing environmental impacts is the most pressing issue today, and many environmentalist groups are calling for curtailing petroleum operations altogether. Even though there is no appropriate tool or guideline available in achieving sustainability in this sector, there are numerous studies that criticize the petroleum sector and attempt to curtail petroleum activities (Holdway 2002). There is clearly a need to develop a new management approach in hydrocarbon operations. The new approach should be environmentally acceptable, economically profitable, and socially responsible.

The crude oil is truly a non-toxic, natural, and biodegradable product, but the way it is refined is responsible for all the problems created by fossil fuel utilization. The refined oil is hard to bio-degrade and is toxic to all living objects. Refining crude oil and processing natural gas use large amounts of toxic chemicals and catalysts including heavy metals. These heavy metals contaminate the end products and are burnt along with the fuels, producing various toxic by-products. The pathways of these toxic chemicals and catalysts show that they severely affect the environment and public health. The use of toxic catalysts creates many environmental effects that cause irreversible damage to the global ecosystem. A detailed pathway analysis of the formation of crude oil and the pathway of refined oil and gas clearly shows that the problem of oil and gas operations lies in their synthesis, or refining.

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