THE LATEST THINKING
The opinions of THE LATEST’s guest contributors are their own.
On Saturday, a massive tanker carrying 136,000 tons of oil collided with a freighter off the coast of China. What is the environmental impact of such an event and why is it important to talk about?
Oil has been on fast takeover since the early 1900s. Our dependence on oil has ensured its permanence as a staple export, yet events like this continue to build a bad rep for the oil industry.
The tanker, The Sanchi, was carrying condensate - condensed gas from crude oil wells and crude’s lightweight and cheaper sibling. As of Monday night, the freighters were still up in flames releasing obscene amounts of emissions into the air, the effect of which will be exponentially worse if the ship explodes or sinks.
According to Whiting Oil and Gas Corporation’s safety brief, condensate is classified as a Category 1 aspiration hazard and can cause serious respiratory damage and even death. This is in addition to numerous other classifications of toxicity, irritation and carcinogenicity. Basically, it is not great to be exposed to and could seriously harm rescuers and civilians as the particles spread.
From an ecological perspective, condensate is classified as a Category 2 acute and chronic toxin to aquatic environments. The only elaboration of the title is that there can be both short and long-term effects on aquatic life … not the most helpful or detailed elaboration.
If we have learned anything from previous oil spills, it is that they can have a massive effect on the local ecosystems. The Deepwater Horizon explosion alone contaminated 112,000 km2 of surface water, 2100 km of shoreline, spread to a depth of 1300 meters and affected all levels of the aquatic food chain.
Given that you can find any of these basic environmental facts in any other news article, the reason I am writing about it is in the importance of an event like The Sanchi. As the US government is looking to expand offshore drilling, negative press to the oil industry could not have come at a better time.
Our dependence, money and attention might now be on oil, but it doesn’t have to be. Because the oil industry is so big, events like this are not that scarce. Although there has been a downward trend in the number of spills caused by cargo freighters since the 1970s, there have still been almost 2000 spills in only forty years (1970 – 2010).
Many people get distracted from the negatives of the oil industry by the good. Oil means development and therefore wealth and happiness (not my opinion, but I see where they are coming from). If you look at the whole picture, is it still true?
If wars are being fought, ecosystems destroyed and smog created just for temporary wealth, is it really worth it?
And if your answer still is yes, that is okay. I know most people appreciate the luxuries of a western society more than I do. Just know both sides of the story before you decide.
If you think about all that really is going into that tank of gas every time you fill up your car, maybe your opinion will change.
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