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ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH CONCERNS AND TOXIC CHEMICALS WHERE YOU LIVE, WORK, AND PLAY

Fuel Industry

About

The fuel industry includes businesses and institutions that extract, process, refine, or transport materials for sources of energy. Materials include: 

See also: Ammonia Crude Oil Gasoline Methane Natural Gas Nitrogen Oxides Propane Styrene Toluene Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

What are they?

Fuel pipelines are large pipes used to transport crude oil, gasoline, natural gas, propane, or other liquid fuels. Pipelines transport fuel from production wells to refineries and then to storage and distribution terminals. 

Many fuel pipelines are underground. Above-ground pipelines are often used to transport fuel to and from marine terminals. They also transport oil in places like Alaska, where it is too cold to place pipelines underground. 

Marine terminals use fuel pipelines to load or unload tankers and ships that transport crude oil, petroleum products, or liquefied natural gas. At marine terminals, pipelines transport fuel to storage tanks and then onto ships for transport to processing and refining facilities. Fuel is unloaded through pipelines from the tankers to storage tanks and loaded onto small vessels such as barges for further transport.

Why are they a concern?

Though fuel pipelines have a good safety record, they can fail, causing leaks, spills, or explosions. Pipeline failures can cause human injuries and even death. Failures also expose people to harmful pollutants. 

Pipelines can fail because of corrosion or damage from excavation. They can also fail due to damage from weather or other outside sources. 

What pollutants are of greatest concern and who is at risk?

When pipelines fail, they can leak or spill their contents. This exposes people to materials that bear harmful pollutants, including:

Pipeline workers and communities near a failed pipeline are at risk.

Additional Resources

What is it?

Crude oil, natural gas, and geothermal energy can be extracted through a process called hydraulic fracturing—or fracking. Fracking injects water, sand, and chemicals deep into the ground. These fluids open or expand cracks in underground rocks. The cracks then release oil, natural gas, or geothermal energy, which is heat contained in the rock and fluids underground.

Why is it a concern?

Fracking uses toxic chemicals that may contaminate water and air. Fracking fluids may leak through cracks into drinking water aquifers. They may also spill onto the ground and contaminate surface water and groundwater.

Traffic and diesel fumes from generators and trucks going into and out of the fracking site contribute to air pollution.

What pollutants are of greatest concern and who is at risk?

Chemicals associated with fracking include hazardous air pollutants and carcinogens, including: 

Workers and communities near a fracking site are at risk.

National Library of Medicine Resources and Databases

Additional Resources

What are they?

Oil and gas fields are areas where crude oil and natural gas have built up under the land’s surface. These fields can also be offshore in lakes and oceans. Operators drill in these fields to extract oil and gas for sources of energy.

Why are they a concern?

Oil and gas operations pose many health and safety concerns, including: 

  • Air pollution – such as from compressor stations, storage tanks, and vehicles
  • Drilling waste – harmful pollutants found in drilling mud, rock waste, and drilling fluids
  • Radioactive waste– naturally occurring radioactive materials underground that surface during drilling and may cause harm
  • Contaminated water – underground water that is pumped to the surface during drilling and may expose people to pollutants

Other safety concerns at oil and gas fields are: 

  • Open waste pits
  • Abandoned wells
  • Drilling equipment
  • Cleaning and pumping activities
  • Fires
  • Explosions
  • Confined spaces where gases can build up

What pollutants are of greatest concern and who is at risk?

Oil and gas production can give off hazardous pollutants, including: 

Workers and communities near an oil and gas production site are at risk.

Additional Resources

Reduce your risk

  • Do you live or work near fracking sites, fuel pipelines, or oil and gas fields?
  • If you live near one of the above sites, do you use well water?
  • Avoid outside activities near these sites.
  • Avoid inhalation of dust from trucks and cars.
  • Test your well water routinely for possible chemical contamination.
  • If your well water has high levels of chemicals, contact your local or state health agency or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for information on how to reduce your exposure to these chemicals.
  • Do not let children play near a fuel industry site.
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