Identify at least Ten Sustainability Issues that you belive are Important in Engineering ?
Issues related to Environmental and natural resources have increasingly gained importance in the recent half of the 20th century and the onset of the 21st century. The ever increasing populations across the world have resulted in an escalating burden on natural resources such as water bodies, land, and air. Thus concerns on the survival of these natural resources regarding the increasing human population is becoming a global issue (A.K. Mehrotra 2008, 234).
Sustainability is the study of how the systems that exist naturally persistently operate to produce the requirements for the ecosystem entirely to remain in a state of equilibrium. There are pillars which contribute to the social science of sustainable existence i.e. the social, economic and environmental pillars. Thus the problems associated with these pillars forms the issues particularly in engineering fields, and a formidable action should be taken to avert possible threats to sustainability (Bobok 2009, 556).
This paper focuses on the various sustainability issues that are related to oil and gas industry. These problems pose threats to the existence of sustainable development both to and should be taken seriously for the betterment of future of humankind. Some of the possible measures that should be taken to combating some of these issues are also discussed. Further, the factors that have contributed to the cause of the major issue of the greenhouse gas emission is elaborated (Bobok 2009, 560).
There exist numerous issues associated with the petroleum industry. They include
- Environmental issues such as the greenhouse gas emissions. Oil and gas companies produce a high level of greenhouse gasses as contrasted with other sectors. Oil production entails various processes such as venting, the release of natural gas (methane) and flaring. These gasses are toxic since; ethane is twenty-five times more potential to promoting global warming than carbon IV oxide .besides, the drilling, and production process entail the full spread application of various engine systems and compressors which emit a larger percentage of greenhouse gas. Although regulations on greenhouse gas emission have been put into place and other policies in different countries that chiefly produce oil and gas, predominant laws are significantly hindered in the leading economies such as Canada and USA(Borho 2009, 672).
- General climate change- climate change is also another critical issue associated with oil and gas industry. Just like other fossils, the production and transportation of oil and its use have very many impacts to the environment. The production of oil results to pollution of air, emission of harmful gasses such as methane into the atmosphere thus resulting in greenhouse gasses effect and destruction of the wilderness. These impacts consequently lead to change in the climate, and with time, it becomes even a threat to the oil and gas production sector itself. Moreover, the emission of carbon IV oxide gas into the atmosphere results in the formation of a thick coating layer or global warming thereby increasing the temperatures in the earth’s atmosphere(Borho 2009, 675).
- Land disruption- despite being one of the major contributors in the energy sector, oil production causes severe soil pollution from its output to transportation. Oil spillage on land deprives the soil of its minerals thus rendering it infertile and posing a significant threat to agriculture and the economic development of a country at large. The production of oil at the offshore has produced large oil spillage including a major spillage from Nova Scotia offshore that destroyed the Gulf of Mexico back in 2010(Boyun Guo 2011, 198).
- The spread of toxic materials- the production of oil involve the use of very many chemicals which are toxic in nature. In cases of oils spillage, this spillage may affect marine life either through inhaling, ingestion of or through direct contact. Some of these chemicals when inhaled may cause suppression of the immune system and in some cases cancer which consequently results in reproductive collapse. Also, other organs such as the brain, kidney and the liver may get damaged(Congrui Jin 2016, 872).
- Disruption of the scenic views and the clear night skies – the machinery involved in the oil production process as well as the gas flares destroys the scenic values which in turn affects major traveling aircraft routes. An example is the Americas oil and gas boom that is even clear when viewed from space in which the oil fields of Bakken burns nearly as shining as Minneapolis and Chicago city. Below is a picture showing the effect(DR. John C. Reis 2013, 554).
- Irreversible damage to land – the construction operations that are associated with gas and oil drilling always leave an irreversible impact on the area. Thus it becomes hard for the development of roads and well pad. These damages not only destroy the habitats of land animals but also leads to increased erosion and stripping of the vegetation. Below is how this oil and gas production effect impacts the ground (DR. John C. Reis 2013, 266).
- Air and water pollution- the emission of the toxic gasses compromises the clean air that is inhaled. As a result of lack of proper strategy on dealing with the emitted gasses, they are permitted to flow into the atmosphere or even in water sources. This results in pollution since the plant life is cut short. Besides, the in the western states these forms of pollution are turning into the ground level; ozone layer increasing the number of organic compounds which set back human beings and the plants(David S. Goldstein 2011, 177).
- Corruption in the petroleum industry – there exist little if no transparency and accountability in the oil sector as most revenues does not get published and most the payments that are made to the government to exploit the resources always stays unconcealed. Often, the hunt for sources of oil results to operations in areas that are characterized by political unsteadiness, dishonest business dealings, and violence. Though such places in most cases provide strong prospects for development, the firm standard prices are likely to degrade as soon as investors become unrelaxed with political instability for fear of chaos erupting.(David S. Goldstein 2011, 998).
- Deteriorating biodiversity- most of the plant, land and sea life is affected by the oil and gas production. Increased vehicle traffic at the gas and oil production sites substantially leads to noise pollution in the wild lands. These wild animals and the birds respond by fleeing away and may be vulnerable to roadkill. Moreover, during nesting and breeding season the songbird communication is affected as well as the alteration of dynamics of the prey and the predator(ESOMBA 2008, 543).
- Health and safety issues – health and security operations that are free from incidences are an essential factor to increased productivity and efficiency at large. Both the processes taking place at the offshore and onshore have high possibilities of health and safety occurrences which can have devastating consequences. An incident that occurred in the Macondo offshore explosion in 2010 claimed the lives of 11 people while many sustained injuries. Also, since the production process involves emissions of gasses that increases the temperatures, there are high risks of fire outbreaks that may lead to deaths(Engineers 2013, 890).
Solutions to some of the Challenges
- Health and safety issues – as discussed above, the health problems related to the oil production process mostly occur at the offshore. Moreover, the high temperatures expose humans to high risks of deaths as a result of the fire. The best strategy to curb this problem is automation of these processes. This will ensure that all the processes that are involved from the production process to the transportation are automated and do not require the presences of a human. This reduces the chances of injuries to people in cases of any outbreaks(Engineers 2013, 321).
‘A case study is the shell, Rockwell oil and gas plant. Philip Tracy states that oil and gas producers are working hard to ensure they drill through a period manifested by a historically lower power barrel oil costs. Thus it’s more crucial to reducing the maintenance and repair costs. In that line, shell plant has gone more digital to producing slightly over 25000 wells worldwide, and many of the wells are situated in challenging areas i.e. over a thousand meters underground. They have managed to solve this by applying a smart field technology which involves the installation of communication systems such as sensors on its equipment’s (Environment 2012, 511).
For example, the pumps and the valves, the primary function of theses sensors is to detect the changes in various variables such as temperature, pressures among other parameters then sends signals to the control system which may be a programmable logic control to take an appropriate action. Furthermore, the engineers get to monitor and optimize each process. When the sensors are incorporated it means that the duty that would have been performed by people is taken care of thus there are almost zero chances of accidents happening, or in case there is an accident here will be no casualties (Environment 2012, 515).
This technology has promoted an increased production of oil and gas commodities as well as minimizing the downtime and improvement of the overall oil and gas recovery. Furthermore, the overall production costs are reduced while reducing the risks that are associated with health which is a greater benefit (Speight 2016, 422).
Philip Tracy further proceeds to explain that the process involved in converting the hydrocarbons which are turned in the underground into gas to be used for filling personal cars is very involving. Hence all the process starting from the extraction, the refining processes, and transportation to gas station necessitates high efficiency and reliability which is seen in the Rockwell Automation on how they have managed to tackle the complex situations. They are using Microsoft services in the field which entails a combination of sensors, software and solution based on a cloud to predict and analyses the material failure, monitor the performance as well as improving the designs while preventing future breakdowns (Environment 2012, 520).
According to Rockwell, one pump in the offshore rig can bring operations to a stop and result in a loss of $100000 to $ 300000 in a single day. Thus the smart drilling system is of much benefit. The Rockwell Company is also underway with processes of providing smart gas pumps which will be able to collect data and convey it on a dashboard to be viewed by Android, PC or windows phone user.
- Greenhouse emissions- the gasses from greenhouse emissions are harmful and toxic to the environment. They are as a result of some activities that control measures have been neglected, and they primarily affect both human and the atmosphere adversely. The carbon and methane gas emissions eventually lead to increased global warming and consequently change the climate. Therefore, appropriate measures should be put into place into the oil and gas plants to reduce their emissions(Sohrab Zendehboudi 2016, 326).
For instance, a case study on a program that fights for the environmental standard, ExxonMobil recognizes that the venting emissions in 2015 was approximated to be six million metric tons of carbon iv oxide and have been radically reduced due to the measures applied. The fugitive and venting measures primarily methane is averagely 5 % of the direct greenhouse gas emissions and the putting up of cost effective measures such as substituting the high bleed pneumatic devices using a minimized radiation technology and leading the greenhouse completions towards the upstream operations has effectively worked (Erik Eberhardt 2007, 333).
Furthermore, an XTO energy company manages the carbon and methane emissions by applying containment practices during the process of drilling, completion as well as during the production operations. The emissions are additionally regulated by a mixture of regulatory and voluntary actions such as the implementations of leak detection techniques and maintenance programmers. These are aided through the uses of sensors which will help to sense the changes during the production and transportation process. Furthermore after the drilling operations of a new well, the workers ensure proper preparation of the production equipment’s by making sure that the products of the natural gas are confined by the product material by optimizing the sensors and imaging cameras, the leakage parts that would not be quickly realized or visible are easily located and appropriate measures are taken (G.G. Nasr 2014, 810).
Another test that helps to curb the greenhouse emission effects is the cogeneration technology which seizures the heat that is produced during the oil and gas production .the cogeneration facilities contribute to minimizing the gas emissions, and they approximately prevent 6 million metric tons of the greenhouse emissions annually. In conclusion, promoting the construction of the cogeneration facilities will greatly help to minimize the greenhouse gas emissions, already the ExxonMobil has started the construction of an 84-megawatt cogeneration facility in Singapore sites (G.G. Nasr 2014, 813).
- Land use pattern and biodiversity-most of the plant, land and sea life is affected by the oil and gas production. Increased vehicle traffic at the gas and oil production sites substantially leads to noise pollution in the wild lands. These wild animals and the birds respond by fleeing away and may be vulnerable to roadkill. Moreover, during nesting and breeding season the songbird communication is affected as well as the alteration of dynamics of the prey and the predator. Moreover, oil production causes severe land pollution from its output to transportation. Oil spillage on land deprives the soil of its minerals thus rendering it infertile and posing a significant threat to agriculture and the economic development of a country at large. The of production oil at the offshore has produced large oil spillage including a major spillage from Nova Scott offshore that destroyed the Gulf of Mexico back in 2010(Saleh 2015, 76).
Thus, appropriate measures such as the use of downhole oil and water separation techniques, these techniques ensures that water and oil are separated when still within the wellbore so that only gas or oil that contains little amount of water is conveyed to the surface. This is aided by the use of downhole monitoring equipment’s and cables (Howard B. Bradley 2007, 294).
Also, the treatment of the water from the oil plant before being taken into the atmosphere. Once the water is treated, it will be very safe to use in agricultural operations such as irrigation or any other secondary industrial operations. Moreover, the treated water can also be used beneficially in fire operations .a case study is in the western USA where reports have it that larger amounts of the produced water are used as sources of firefighting operations at Colorado and Durango .furthermore, the reusing of the water is also an important measure. When the water is reused once again in the production process, both the plant and marine life will not be affected since there are no emissions (Huacan Fang 2014, 447).
Other measures of curbing land and water pollution are the freeze-thaw evaporation process whereby individual process such as a freezing and conventional evaporations of the produced water is applied. The produced water is cooled at very low temperatures such that it starts to crystallize. After that, the ice is collected and melted to produce clean water for use (Rusco 2010, 200).
Contributing Factors of Greenhouse Emission
The challenge associated with greenhouse emissions have been mostly provided by the original design of the oil and gas plants .the design of the system does not allow for an appropriate measure to curb the emissions from being permitted into the atmosphere. Engineers have played a role in propagating this challenge and if not keenly looked into it will have adverse effects shortly. There is no proper measure that was employed during the design, and thus the carbon and methane gasses freely go into the atmosphere and consequently result in global warming and climate change. If appropriate measures such as rechanneling of the carbon and emissions into underground storage channels were put into place during the design process, this issue would not be a factor (Hurst 2009, 835).
Furthermore, the design has not fully incorporated the use of efficient technologies to avert the problems that may be associated with fire or accidents from the oil and gas plant. For instance the oil spillage at the offshore. If the control devices such as the sensors were incorporated into the design, then it would have been easy to notice a situation where there are leakages and thus preventing the occurrences of accidences and deaths. Thus new technologies if adopted would help solve these challenges (John R. Fanchi 2016, 118).
Other factors that have contributed to the lack of proper regulations on the production of oil and gas production companies. There are many oil and gas production plants worldwide which produce petroleum oil in large quantities annually. Bearing in mind that it is all these processes that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions starting from the extraction, production and transportation process. Despite all theses, there have been limited regulations which would help to avert the greenhouse gas emissions (Mahto 2016, 721).
If there were conditions that a company should meet to embark on the production process, the emissions would have been reduced with its general accompanying effects. For instance, if these enterprises would be required to embrace the cogeneration technology which seizures the heat that is produced during the oil and gas production. Setting up a cogeneration facility before the setting of the plant as a requirement would be of much significance (Mian 2007, 532).
Besides, putting up of cost effective measures such as substituting the high bleed pneumatic devices using a minimized emission technology and directing the greenhouse completions towards the upstream operations has effectively worked as a limit would consequently help to curb this challenge (Norman Myers 2013, 184).
Issues related to the oil and gas production should be taken into keen consideration to prevent adverse effects from occurring in the near future. Primarily these challenges contribute to global warming and climate change which is not desirable for both plant and human life. Thus applying some of the recommended measures would help to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions and other resulting impacts (world 2010, 377).
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