The Future of Petroleum

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The world's reliance on petroleum is expected to grow, despite widespread environmental, economic, and political consequences. The U.S. oil extraction industry continues to aggressively search for new oil deposits and lobby the federal government to open up restricted areas to drilling. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska has been on the oil industry agenda for several decades, creating a long-standing environmental controversy. Advances in oil well technology have allowed extraction in the deep ocean beyond the continental shelf, but these have not been enough to reverse the trend of declining production in the United States.

There are many compelling reasons to decrease society's dependence on petroleum for energy, and the most obvious place to begin is in the transportation sector. Energy-efficient engines and hybrid gas/electric cars can help to reduce some of the need for oil, providing higher gas mileage and less demand. A variety of alternative fuels have also been developed, such as ethanol, biodiesel (made from vegetable oil), and hydrogen. Each of these would produce little or no exhaust pollutants or greenhouse gases, and each derives from plentiful renewable resources. The United States is now in fact actively researching hydrogen as a viable alternative to gasoline, and the hydrogen fuel cell as a substitute for the internal combustion engine.

Petroleum is a useful chemical substance for many important purposes. But it is also a nonrenewable resource with a highly toxic composition, and it poses significant problems when used in huge volumes throughout the industrialized world. see also Air Pollution; Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; Coal; Disasters: Oil Spills; Economics; Electric Power; Energy; Fossil Fuels; Global Warming; Ozone; NOx; Renewable Energy; Sulfur Dioxide; Underground Storage Tanks; Vehicular Pollution.


Oil Spill Intelligence Report. (1997). Oil Spills from Vessels (1960-1995): An International Historical Perspective. New York: Aspen Publishers.

Internet Resources

Committee on Oil in the Sea, National Research Council. (2003). Oil in the Sea III: Inputs, Fates, and Effects. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press. Available from

Energy Information Administration. "Official Energy Statistics from the U.S. Government." Available from

Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council. "Restoring the Resources Injured by the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill and Understanding Environmental Change in the Northern Gulf of Alaska." Available from

National Biodiesel Board. "Need a Fill Up?" Available from

National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition. "National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition and E85." Available from

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "Office of Response and Restoration, National Ocean Service." Available from

Schlumberger Excellence in Educational Development (SEED) Science Center. "Science Lab: Oil Well Blowout Simulator." Available from en/lab/blowout.

Trench, Cheryl J. (2001). "Oil Market Basics." Washington, D.C.: Energy Information Administration. Available from

U.S. Department of Energy. "Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy." Available from

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U.S. Department of Energy. "Fossil Fuels: An Energy Education Website." Available from

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (1995). Profile of the Petroleum Refining Industry. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. Available from http://

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (1999). Profile of the Oil and Gas Extraction Industry. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. Available from

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "Air Quality Where You Live." Available from

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U.S. Geological Survey. (1997). "Bioremediation: Nature's Way to a Cleaner Environment." Available from

Adrian MacDonald

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