As we have become more and more dependent on oil and fossil fuels for energy, we have begun to take higher risks to extract it from the ground. Offshore drilling is one of the riskiest operations, because any spill into the water will continue spreading until it is cleaned up. That's not to mention the deadly chemicals that are used in the "clean-up" process.
Another hazard that is mostly overlooked is the gases that leak from these offshore platforms. Most of the time, pockets of gas in oilfields are burned off into the atmosphere, but sometimes the quantity of gas present is large enough to make it economically feasible to collect it.
In the middle of this month, we found out that a French energy company, Total, had a platform that was leaking natural gas in the North Sea. This leak had been going on for almost 2 months, and we were only beginning to hear about it.
Reports kept coming in that the environmental impact was very low, and that we really had nothing to worry about, etc. But the leak's environmental impact shouldn't just be dismissed so easily. This gas leak is mostly methane, which is known to be one of the largest contributing factors in the global warming issue.
Methane gas only lasts for 12 years or so in the atmosphere, but in its reaction with ozone and heat from the sun, it breaks down into carbon dioxide, which can linger in the atmosphere for many more decades. On a 100-year timeline, methane is 25 to 30 times more effective at global warming than carbon dioxide, but in a 20-year timeframe, it is over 100 times greater than carbon dioxide.
So now what? The gas is out into the atmosphere, and there's no recapturing it as of yet. What can we possibly do? Is there any way that we can help mitigate problems like this in the future?
The short answer in a word, is yes. Yes we can lower greenhouse gas emissions, and yes we can decrease the amount of gas and other fossil fuels to power our lives. There are many small things that you can do at home, and at work to ensure less energy is wasted, and if we all drove less and walked or biked more often, we might enjoy taking trips more and get some exercise at the same time. I'm absolutely certain that renewable energy will be the future, but right now we have to think about right now.