Ecology

Is oil a renewable resource

Oil is a natural resource belonging to the group of fossil fuels, which still continue to be the major energy sources used, although supplemented with others (nuclear energy, hydroelectric energy, etc.). And of all the fossil fuels, oil is the most widely used, so it is interesting to know a little more about it.

Is oil a renewable resource or not?

We begin by clarifying that oil is NOT a renewable resource . But then why is oil a non-renewable resource?

On the one hand, renewable resources or potentially renewable resources are those that can be regenerated through natural processes at a speed greater than that of human needs. On the other hand, non-renewable resources are those in which there is no replacement or it is extremely slow, in such a way that it is not able to compensate for human consumption. Therefore, the latter are present in nature in limited quantities .

In the case of oil, if current consumption continues and without finding new oil fields, it is estimated that its reserves may be exhausted around the year 2070. Thus, oil is clearly a non-renewable resource and, therefore , also a non-renewable energy source that takes millions of years to generate as we will see below.

In summary, this is the oil formation process :

  1. The oil originated from the massive death of marine plankton and algae , due to sudden changes in salinity or water temperature.
  2. Later, this organic matter was deposited next to silts and sands in anoxic conditions and they were later buried under heavy layers of sediment for millions of years.
  3. Before the oil was formed as such, the sapropel muds were formed , which are simply dark muds formed by the aforementioned components (organic matter, silt and sand).
  4. What happens next is that the organic matter is converted into hydrocarbons by a fermentation process, while the sands and silts are transformed into sedimentary rocks (sandstones and marl) that constitute the mother rock, which is impregnated by said hydrocarbons. .
  5. As the density of oil is rather low, it tends to rise to the surface and dissipates into the atmosphere, leaving a solid bituminous residue (this occurs, for example, in the Puertollano bituminous shales). However, if while the oil begins to rise it encounters an impermeable mass, it will accumulate and impregnate the underlying porous rocks, constituting what are called storage rocks or storage rocks. These are, consequently, the reservoir or deposit from which the oil is extracted.

How the oil is extracted

Once the deposit is located and its viability has been verified, the oil is extracted . For this, drilling techniques are used to make extraction wells.

Oil is extracted in the form of crude oil , made up of a mixture of gaseous, liquid and solid hydrocarbons , which cannot be consumed directly. Thus, for its use it must go through a series of refining processes. The first is known as fractional distillation and consists of gradually raising the temperature in order to separate the different fractions or parts that compose it, from lower to higher boiling point: first, the gaseous products are separated (butane, ethane , methane, etc.) in an upper chamber, then the liquids (kerosene, fuel, gasoline, etc.) and finally the solids (bitumens and tars) are deposited in the lower areas.

The hydrocarbons thus obtained are not yet suitable for consumption, so they will subsequently undergo some treatments that consist of improving their octane number, that is, the antiknock capacity of the fuel. Finally, it is transported through the well-known pipelines , although the most common form of transport is through large tankers.

The main environmental impact caused by the use of oil is associated with the combustion of its by-products. On the one hand, combustion causes pollution to increase, generating particles, nitrous oxides, sulfur oxides, etc. On the other hand, large amounts of CO2 are released into the atmosphere, whose accumulation in the atmosphere is generating climate change.

As if this were not enough, the use of large oil container ships has a high risk of accidents, with oil spills having consequences that can certainly be regrettable. As oil is lighter than water, in case of leakage it can spread over marine surfaces, which, in the first instance, slows the entry of oxygen and eliminates all existing life (these are the so-called oil slicks ). Some examples of oil slicks are the wrecks of the Exxon Valdez or the Prestige oil tankers and the events that occurred during the Gulf War.

Despite these problems, we cannot yet abandon its use, as a large part of society would be paralyzed. The solution is to gradually replace it with other alternative energies that have a lower environmental impact on the environment.

Examples of non-renewable resources

Finally, we say goodbye by citing some examples of non-renewable resources . As we have mentioned, oil is a type of fossil fuel and a non-renewable resource. However, there are two more types of fossil fuels and they are also non-renewable resourcescoal and natural gas . These, together with nuclear energy , constitute the different types of non-renewable energy sources that exist.

Other non-renewable resources are those that are found in finite quantities such as minerals and also some types of rocks used in construction. Likewise, underground aquifers can be considered as a non-renewable resource .

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