Below, we list the potential pros and cons of oil energy.
This guide forms part of a series of guides we have put together outlining the potential benefits and disadvantages of different energy sources and energy generation methods.
Summary – Potential Pros & Cons Of Oil Energy
Can be an affordable and cheap energy source
Technology is well developed
Infrastructure is already in place, well developed, and established in many places
Is widely accessible on a global scale
Oil might have high energy density
May have a consistent energy/power output (and not be a ‘variable’ energy source like some renewables might be)
May provide a number of economic benefits
Some major economies, and major industries and sectors are dependent on oil in the short term
Is a commodity
Oil technology is used for some renewable energy equipment & products
Oil is considered a finite resource, and not renewable
Emits greenhouse gases
May contribute to to air pollution (especially in cities where petroleum based vehicle fuels are used)
May contribute to other environmental issues
Drilling for oil may have a range of potentially negative effects
The oil industry may have potential risks for some workers, such as the risk of workplace injuries and fatalities
May be a source of power and wealth disparity, as well as inequality
Some countries are dependent on others for oil imports (which can be a form of foreign energy dependency)
Prices can sometimes be volatile
Other energy sources may have some cheaper types of infrastructure
Some of the major benefits of oil energy might be that:
– Along with other fossil fuels (coal, and natural gas), it’s provided a significant amount of the economic growth and development to some of major developed economies in the past
This has also come with social benefits
– It has a number of uses across society
– Energy and fuel systems and infrastructure in major urban areas are generally set up (and well established) for oil and petroleum based energy and fuel integration
However, some of the major drawbacks of oil energy might be that:
– Oil is a fossil fuel that can emit greenhouse gas and air pollutants
– The mining of oil may also have negative environmental effects
Society, the economy, and particularly some of the major industries and sectors might be somewhat reliant on oil in the short to medium term.
In the long term, whether we decrease our consumption of oil, might depend on how effective and feasible alternate energy sources, alternate fuel sources, and alternate vehicles (like electric and hydrogen vehicles) are at replacing the utility and functions of oil energy, petroleum based fuel, and vehicles that use petroleum fuels.
There’s also the question of exactly how much oil we have left to use.
Some reports indicate that some countries like the US will actually increase their oil consumption into the future.
Other reports that discuss reducing our oil energy share (oil as a share of primary energy compared other energy sources), indicate that natural gas may be a ‘bridge’ energy source to do this. Nuclear energy may be another such energy source.
Both of these energy sources might be cleaner in some ways from a sustainability perspective.
Solar, wind, hydro and geothermal energy might also be cleaner forms of energy in some ways.
However, some reports also question the practicality and cost of some of these energy sources, as well as alternate vehicles like electric cars and hydrogen cars.
The information in this guide contains broad generalisations.
Ultimately, each source of energy in each geographic location around the world has it’s own variables to consider, and requires it’s own individual assessment.
Firstly, What Is Oil Energy?
What Is Oil Energy?
Oil energy involves energy generation via the use of crude oil by-products, or ‘refined oil’
These products are sometimes referred to as ‘petroleum products’
Oil is most commonly used for energy in petroleum based fuels like gasoline for the propulsion of vehicles (like cars, trucks, planes, etc)
Oil can also be used for energy for for generating electricity, where refined oil is used at oil fired power plants for example
Combustion of these fuels and energy sources might be the way oil is used for energy.
Other Uses For Oil (Other Than Energy)
Read about some of the other potential uses for oil in this guide
Potential Pros Of Oil Energy
Can Be An Affordable Source Of Energy
There’s a range of factors that can contribute to the affordability of oil as an energy source
In particular, oil may be more affordable than some newer or less developed energy sources and fuels
Comparing the cost of petroleum based fuel to the cost of hydrogen fuel in some instances may be an example of this
Oil Related Technology May Be Well Developed
Like other fossil fuel energy sources, because oil energy technology has been used for so long compared to some newer energy sources, it’s received significant investment and been well developed over the years.
Oil Infrastructure Is Already Set Up & Developed
Extensive oil infrastructure, such as oil pipelines, tankers, and so on, has already been developed to distribute, transport and use oil based products and fuels
Gas stations are another example of infrastructure that is already set up for petroleum products in many places
Compare this to some installed capacity of renewable energy that experiences power loss in some countries because it lacks infrastructure for integration into power grids
Some cities may also lack charging stations for electric cars, and fill up stations for hydrogen vehicles
Is Widely Accessible (As An Energy Source & Fuel)
Because of the above factors such as how developed oil technology is, and how widespread and developed support infrastructure is, oil energy is widely accessible on a global scale
Oil Might Have High Energy Density
Energy density is essentially the amount of energy (per unit) an energy resource has.
Oil might have more energy density that several other energy sources.
transportgeography.org indicates that (paraphrased) gasoline might have around twice the energy of some lower grade coals.
When measured in gigajoules and microjoules per cubic meter, another report indicates that oil has an energy density far higher than solar energy.
May Have A Consistent Energy/Power Output (& Not Be Variable)
Oil generally has a consistent/stable energy/power output across most conditions.
It is not considered a ‘variable’ energy source like some renewables might be – these energy sources can have an intermittent power output
Wind and solar might be examples of energy sources that can be variable, because they rely on sunlight and wind to generate energy.
These energy sources may also have to use energy storage technology such as batteries to store excess energy for later, whereas oil doesn’t have to do this.
These energy sources may also need backup energy sources in an energy mix to meet ‘baseload’, where oil doesn’t have to do this
May Provide A Number Of Economic Benefits
Aside from providing economic growth and development, oil might provide the following economic benefits:
– Providing Employment & Income
Combined, the oil and natural gas industries employ millions of people in the US alone according to some reports
Jobs span across the oil and gas industries directly, but also industries that indirectly deal with the industries, or rely on the industries in some way
Several reports indicate that employment related to oil and gas is only expected to increase through to the year 2025.
Some Major Economies, & Major Industries & Sectors, Are Dependent On Oil In The Short Term
This ‘pro’ moreso relates to the importance of oil to economies across the world, and also to the industries and sectors that depend on it
Major economies are currently dependent on oil for economic activity, and for the goods and services that are provided to participants in the economy
And, the different industries and sectors within these economies depend on the by-products of oil for energy and fuel, as well as a range of everyday products and services
Is A Commodity
Oil is classified as a global commodity
This means it can be traded across global markets, with one report indicating it is the world’s most actively traded commodity
Furthermore, oil might be one of the most mature commodity markets in the world
Oil Technology Is Used For Some Renewable Energy Products & Equipment
Petroleum might be used to produce some solar equipment, such as for the plastic polymer backing for some solar panels
Oil might also be used as a lubricant on wind turbines
So, some renewables and ‘clean’ forms of energy may currently depend on oil for their use
One report indicates that some renewable energy products created with oil energy can become carbon-neutral in as little as 5 years or less (depending on the metric being used to measure this)
Oil Energy Cons
Is Considered A Finite Resource, & Not Renewable
There may be finite oil resources left in the world, and there’s a range of estimates as to how much that might be
There might also be uncertainty about how much of this oil is recoverable i.e. how much is physically accessible, can be extracted in an economically feasible way, and so on
Other energy sources like solar and wind for example are considered to be renewable
Solar gets it’s energy form the Sun, and the Sun is estimated to have a lifespan of another few billion years
Emits Greenhouse Gases
The combustion of oil for energy emits greenhouse gases
In comparison to other energy sources, particularly other fossil fuels, oil might be cleaner than coal in terms of carbon emission rates, but might have a higher emissions rate than natural gas.
May Contribute To Air Pollution
The combustion of refined oil and petroleum products may release air pollutants and contribute to air pollution
This may especially happen in urban areas, and places where petroleum fuels and vehicles are used heavily
Air pollution may have the potential to degrade air quality to an extent that air pollutants may contribute to health issues for humans
May Contribute To Other Environmental Problems Too
Oil may have the ability to cause pollution in other ways too.
One example might be water pollution – where oil can spill at sea, or oil can run off/wash off of highways.
Drilling For Oil May Lead To A Range Of Potentially Negative Effects
Drilling for oil may negatively impact the environment in several ways.
For example, there’s a range of pollution, contamination, and other issues that might arise from waste and by-products of the drilling process.
Some reports also indicate that injecting waste water back after drilling might increase the incidence rates of earthquakes.
Oil Industry May Have Potential Risks For Some Workers
Such as workplace injuries and fatalities
vittana.org mentions this about workplace related fatalities:
… 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.
Beyond fatalities, there’s also the injury incidence rate in the oil and gas industries to consider.
Can Be A Source Of Power & Wealth Disparities, Also Inequality
Both inside countries, and also between some countries and groups
Some countries have abundant oil resources and reserves, and these resources and reserves can be controlled/owned by small groups.
This may have lead to an unequal opportunity to receive profits, wealth and power from the control of these resources throughout history.
Some argue this has created a divide in socioeconomic groups both within countries, and between countries.
Other suggest the control of these resources has lead to monopolies, violence, terrorism, and sometimes war in the past.
Some Countries Are Dependent On Other Countries For Their Oil
Some reports indicate that most of the world’s oil is concentrated in about 20 countries.
Using oil energy can mean that a range of countries become dependent on these small number of countries for their oil i.e. net importers become dependent on net exporters.
This might be considered a form of foreign energy dependency
Pricing Can Sometimes Be Volatile
The price of oil might sometimes be volatile i.e. it can rise and fall in short amounts of time
This can be due to a range of reasons, such as geopolitical events, artificial limitations on supply and demand, and other factors.
Other Energy Sources May Have Some Cheaper Types Of Infrastructure
Some reports and data indicate that hydrogen pipelines can be cheaper than crude oil pipelines on a per mile basis.
6. Various ‘Better Meets Reality’ guides