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.
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