Oil -the viscous liquid derived from petroleum – is loved by some, and hated by others. But no matter how hard we try to reduce our reliance on it, it plays a much bigger role in our lives than we realize. In addition to gasoline, diesel, and other fuels, about 6000 or so everyday products are made from it. Some of them are shown in this diagram:
The first oil wells were drilled in China in 347 AD, but it wasn’t until 1849 that oil was distilled to produce kerosene. (This was the fuel that replaced whale oil.) There is no question that we will eventually have to find a replacement for oil too, but I have it on some authority that the whales do not want to take part again.
Here in Alberta, we are vilified in some quarters for our oil industry, (most recently because of the Oil Sands.) This industry accounts for approximately 8.5 per cent of Canada’s total GHG emissions and about 0.12 per cent of global GHG emissions. (Environment Canada 2015). Canada’s total emissions are 1.6% of global GHG emissions (Environment Canada 2012).
In recent years, the Oil Sands has countered the anti ‘tar sands’ rhetoric with discussions about the value of ‘Ethical’ oil that is produced in a Democratic country that gives equal rights to all citizens, pays fair wages to employees, reclaims the land after projects are completed, and does not fund terrorism. This makes some Canadians wonder why Eastern Canada imports oil from Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Angola and Iraq, instead of building the pipe lines that would allow for Alberta oil to easily flow east.
The oil and gas industry has made a profound mark upon Albertan culture. Alberta singer, songwriter Corb Lund captures what the ‘workplace’ is like for those men who ‘pull the dragons from the ground’:
Alberta is also known for a Beef Industry that is the largest of the province’s agriculture sectors. It is estimated that Alberta’s livestock industry contributes about 1% of Canada’s total GHG emissions. The main gases emitted by this industry are methane from the animals, and methane and nitrous oxide from manure handling and storage.
But what about those cows? How ironic is it that the animal that is being blamed (partly) for global warming is the source of so many things, including manure, which is an excellent fertilizer and must be viewed and managed as a resource rather than as a waste. Other products include beef, milk, marshmallows, fertilizer, hides, soap, insulin, sutures, shoes, glue and more recently a motor oil that is made from animal fat.
The point of this story is – everything is intertwined, often in ways we don’t realize. The very things we think are the problem, might just end up being the solution to something else.
When I heated my home with oil, I used an average of 800 gallons a year. I have found that I can keep comfortably warm for an entire winter with slightly over half that quantity of beer.
– Dave Barry –
Let me tell you something that we Israelis have against Moses. He took us 40 years through the desert in order to bring us to the one spot in the Middle East that has no oil!
– Golda Meir, 1973 –