In this guide, we list the pros and cons of oil energy.
This guide forms part of a series of guides we have put together outlining the benefits and disadvantages of different energy sources and energy generation methods.
Summary – Oil Energy Pros & Cons
Can be an affordable and cheap energy source
Technology is well developed
Infrastructure is already in place, well developed and established
Is widely accessible worldwide
A high density form of energy
Has a consistent output (isn’t variable)
Provides significant employment
Is important for many economies, with different sectors and industries dependent on it
Is a commodity
Oil technology is used to create equipment for other energy sources, such as some solar and wind equipment
Oil is finite and not renewable
Emits greenhouse gases and has a higher carbon footprint than natural gas
Contributes to air pollution (especially in cities via petroleum based vehicle fuels)
Can cause other environmental problems
Drilling for oil can have a range of potentially negative effects
The oil industry overall can be hazardous for workers – injuries and on the job fatalities
Can indirectly impact human health in other ways
Can be a source of power and wealth battles and inequalities in some countries (between groups), and between some countries
Can create a form of dependency of some countries on others
Pricing can rise and fall, and be volatile
Other energy sources may have cheaper infrastructure in some ways
Oil energy is well established in many countries and has helped in providing economic growth growth in developed countries.
However, oil is a fossil fuel that emits greenhouse gas, and the extraction of, and use of oil for energy, is damaging in several major ways to the environment, animals and humans
We currently rely on oil heavily in the short term – especially because of how existing infrastructure, systems and industries/sectors depend on it, and how it’s tied to economic growth.
But, it seems like it’s in society’s best interests to transition away from oil energy as a major source of energy in the long term to cleaner and more renewable energy in the future if we want to better address various environmental issues.
There’s also the question of exactly how much oil we have left.
Natural gas may be a bridge energy source we use in this transition, as it’s cleaner burning, along with nuclear power.
Solar, wind and water are also cleaner forms of energy.
*Note – the above pros and cons are broad generalisations.
Obviously there are different variables to each specific energy project that impact the final pros and cons (like new technology that reduces emissions for coal power plants just as one of many examples).
Each energy project and situation (in different countries and cities) should be analysed individually.
Having said that, some broad principles and patterns about the pros and cons of different energy sources tend to stay consistent too.
What Is Oil Energy?
Crude oil is formed underground when pressure and heat compress the remains of prehistoric animals, aquatic life, and plants millions of years ago.
Unprocessed crude oil is commonly extracted via oil drilling.
Oil energy is the use of crude oil/petroleum by-products for energy (although by products can also be used in manufacturing, such as for lubricants like oil and grease)
By products/components of crude oil are separated by refining and distillation, and then processed into products.
Oil is most commonly used for energy in petroleum based fuels (like gasoline and diesel) for vehicles, and also for generating electricity.
Direct combustion is the most common way oil is used for energy.
Oil Energy Pros
Can Be An Affordable Source Of Energy
Compared to some other energy sources – especially newer, lesser developed energy sources.
Oil Technology Is Well Developed
Like other fossil fuel energy sources, because oil energy has been used for so long, it’s received significant investment and been well developed over the years.
Oil Infrastructure Is Already In Place
Extensive oil infrastructure has already been developed and built to distribute and transport oil products, such as oil pipelines, tankers, and so on.
Oil Is Widely Accessible
Oil infrastructure and transport makes oil available in most places around the world.
Oil Energy Is High Density Energy
Oil having good energy density means that a small amount of oil can product a large amount of energy comparative to some other energy sources.
Several sources indicate that oil has an energy density far higher than an energy source like solar for example (when measured in gigajoules and microjoules per cubic meter)
Has A Consistent Output (Not Variable)
Oil can be used for constant energy output in most conditions.
Oil energy is not reliant on the weather conditions, or having to store excess energy for later use.
This means it also doesn’t require backup energy sources in an energy mix.
This is unlike solar and wind for example (which can have an intermittent or variable load)
Oil Energy Provides Jobs
Combined, the oil and natural gas industries employ millions of people in the US alone, and those jobs are in conventional and unconventional energy sources, and directly, as well as indirectly (for jobs like lawyers for example).
Several sources indicate that employment is only expected to increase through to 2025.
Many Major Economies Are Dependent On Oil Across Different Industries & Sectors
Major economies are currently dependent on oil not only for energy (in vehicles, planes, at power plants, etc), but also for different products across different industries.
Plastics, chemicals, shampoos, shaving cream, bandages are all examples of products that use refined by products from crude oil.
Industries like agriculture also use it for farming equipment (in the form of grease and lubricants, as an example)
Oil grows economies, but also maintains them.
Oil Is A Commodity
This means it can be invested in, and also traded.
Oil Technology Is Used To Create Renewable Energy Products & Equipment
Such as solar and wind equipment – PV panels are one example.
And, most renewable energy products created by oil energy become carbon-neutral in 5 years or less.
So, other forms of energy indirectly depend on oil.
Oil Energy Cons
Is Finite, & Not Renewable
This is compared to say solar and wind for example that rely on the Sun, which is expected to have a lifespan of another few billion years.
Emits Greenhouse Gases, & Has A Higher Carbon Footprint Than Natural Gas
The combustion of oil energy emits greenhouse gases, which contributes to the environmental issue of climate change.
Several sources also indicate that oil/petroleum sits just behind coal, and in front of natural gas in terms of carbon emission rates
Contributes To Air Pollution
Fossil fuels, including petroleum based products, are responsible for a lot of air pollution and degradation of air quality, especially in cities.
Oil Can Pollute In Other Ways Too
Oil has the ability to cause pollution in other ways too.
Drilling For Oil Can Have A Range Of Environmental Effects
Drilling can have a negative impact on land, the ocean, the general environment and surrounding wildlife and ecosystems.
There’s a range of pollution, contamination, and other issues that can arise from waste and by products of the drilling process.
Some sources also indicate injecting waste water back after drilling might increase the incidence rates of earthquakes.
Oil Industry Can Be Dangerous For Workers
According to some figures by vittana.org:
… oil and gas industry workers make up about 1% of the total workers in the United States [but about] 3% of on-the-job fatalities occurred within the oil and gas industry.
… a worker here is 3 times more likely to die on the job than in other employment fields.
These figures don’t even take into account injuries in the oil and gas industries, which obviously mean there can be more danger for workers when taking into account injuries in addition to deaths.
Oil Can Indirectly Impact Human Health In Other Ways
The combustion of oil releases air pollutants.
If humans breathe in these pollutants in high enough quantities and concentrations, there can be health issues to consider.
Can Be A Source Of Power & Wealth Battles & Inequalities
Some countries have vast oil resources and also have vast control over these resources.
This has lead to vast profits, wealth and power throughout history.
That wealth, money and power has created divides in socioeconomic groups both within countries, and between countries. There’s also an unequal opportunity to benefit from oil resources between the different groups in societies.
It can lead to, or promote, monopolies, violence, terrorism, and sometimes war.
Can Create A Form Of Dependency Of Some Countries On Others
Using oil energy can mean that some countries who are net importers become dependent in some ways on net producer/exporter countries.
Pricing Can Rise & Dip, Sometimes In A Volatile Way
Pricing has been sometimes been volatile, because of artificial limitations on supply and demand, and other factors.
Pricing for oil might be more volatile than other energy sources.
Other Energy Sources May Have Cheaper Infrastructure In Some Ways
Some reports and data indicate that hydrogen pipelines can be cheaper than crude oil pipelines on a per mile basis.