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The Cost of Fossil Fuel Storage Too Great For The Environment

Updated on May 4, 2016

Mankind has depended on fossil fuels to get things done for ages, much to the chagrin of environmentalists; be it cars, planes, or anything else you can think of, it all comes down to coal, oil and natural gas. While green advocates are developing newer and better ways every day to cut down – and eventually do away with altogether – our dependence on fossil fuels, until that day comes they nonetheless remain a necessary evil.

But where you find fossil fuels, you’ll have to find a way to store them, and new information has come to light as of late regarding the toll the storage of coal, oil and natural gas is having upon the environment. With prices for these fuels at a recent low, manufacturers have been noted for their stockpiling efforts while they await a future upswing in prices; according to an article posted by The Hill, this very stockpiling has consequences far beyond the mere attempted manipulation of the mass market.

“Beyond these market impacts of soaring inventories, far less has been written about the environmental toll of storing so much fossil fuel for so long,” they said. “However, coal, oil and natural gas each pose distinct environmental problems in storage, even before their combustion releases emissions to the environment. Once coal is mined, it begins to react with air, releasing gases such as carbon dioxide and hydrocarbons; oil storage requires careful management to minimize the release of hydrocarbons into the air.”

The Hill notes a recent example of how fossil fuel stockpiling can have disastrous results if not properly overseen; a natural gas leak at the Porter Ranch in Aliso Canyon, California not only revealed how wasteful stockpiling can be in terms of potential energy runoff, but also (and mainly) the ecological damage such an event can create, and the resultant effects of it upon human, animal, and plant life.

“Scientists estimate that the leak released about 100,000 tons of methane to the atmosphere. Methane is a climate warming gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide that also contributes to background ozone pollution,” they said. “While Aliso Canyon garnered the headlines, studies show that hundreds of other underground storage facilities leak natural gas (comprised mostly of methane) to the atmosphere. Though lesser in intensity, these leaks contribute to climate warming and mean that valuable fuel is being wasted without being burned for energy.”

Coal, very much considered a safer fuel source by many, is, in reality, no less deadly when mishandled; however, the stockpiling of the well-known combustible sedimentary rock has revealed its diminishing importance in the world fuel market, which in turn has lead to less being kept in reserve – especially in China, one of the world’s leading users, but also in the U.S. – and as a result, less pollution being produced by its storage. However, it will be many years before we as a planet truly reap the benefits of this environmentally.

Oil stockpiling completes the trifecta of environmental maladies; Houston Public Media reports that the Houston, Georgia area is experiencing a vast influx of oil, and the proposed underground storage facilities for the current load of 66 million barrels of crude (projected to go up to 100 million barrels or more) they currently have could have major repercussions on the local environment.

“Underground caverns are being readied to start taking on some 20 million barrels of crude beginning later this year, which raises a point of concern; aside from a catastrophic spill: Is there an environmental impact from so much oil simply flowing through and being stored around Houston? Yes, says Eduardo Olaguer at the Houston Advanced Research Center,” they said. “Olaguer and his colleagues just published a study based on air monitoring they did. Olaguer said they found benzene in the air at levels that were nearing limits on what’s considered safe for short term exposure and that were far exceeding limits for long term exposure. He said the benzene levels correlated with the times when crude and other related products were being transferred to and from tanks.”

So, what can you, as a concerned environmentalist, do to hasten the advent of green energy sources and – as a result – usher out the age of fossil fuels? Carpooling, recycling, use of LED lighting, and plain old common sense can work wonders. In addition, there are several environmentally-friendly green blogs out there that offer a plethora of advice, tips, and instructions on how to live your life while leaving as little of a carbon footprint upon the planet at possible. Noteworthy blogs are YellowPagesGoesGreen, which features articles written by well-known environmental advocates, and Envirogadget, which offers writings on green-themed technology and other related subjects.

While fossil fuel stockpiling may sound alarming – and, if left unchecked, its effects upon the planet certainly can be – it’s also a vital sign that the age of oil, coal, and natural gas as energy sources are coming to an end. After all, this stockpiling has come about due to the lessened demand for these fuel sources and if demand continues to decrease – and reliance on alternative, green fuel sources take their place – the world and all who live within its environment will only reap the benefits.


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    • Chris Boylan profile image

      Chris Boyle 24 months ago from New York, NY

      I agree, coal is certainly on its last legs. In a way it's a shame as coal mining will be yet another career wiped out (a lot of small towns depend upon it), but the trade-off in environmental impact will certainly temper that issue. And yes, natural gas comes with a number of hazards, not the least of which are when things go boom. Oil is certainly going nowhere soon, but there are many viable alternative/clean power sources on the horizon (some already here) and eventually, they will have to be turned to, as the oil supply, while plentiful, is also quite finite; the mass consumption of it has only accounted for a very brief moment in our history when you take the age of the planet into consideration. Eventually they'll have to turn elsewhere, and it'll have to be clean.

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 24 months ago from Auburn, WA

      Natural gas systems do make me stop and think. We've had a couple of bad pipeline explosions here in WA over the pat 15 years.

      Oil and coal don't bother me, granted the nearest refinery is in Anacortes. I live near a rail yard that has hundreds of coal cars parked for days at a time waiting for the port to open. Dust has not been a big problem. However, some in town are starting to worry. But I think in 10 years the coal industry will be virtually gone.