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Fossil Fuels

Our Dependence on Fossil Fuels

Many of the environmental problems the world faces today including climate change, air pollution, oil spills, and acid rain result from our dependence on fossil fuels.  The burning of fossil fuels produces heat-trapping gases that are the main cause of the ongoing rise in global atmospheric temperatures. Despite a growing list of global warming indicators, underscored by the alarmingly rapid recession of Arctic sea ice, opportunistic oil companies continue to exploit the ever-increasing human need for energy consumption and are constantly on the lookout for untapped oil and gas sources.

In addition to ecological disturbances from fossil fuel extraction, there are certain cultural consequences for communities around the Pacific Rim.These communities, many Indigenous, are threatened by the depletion of specific resources they depend upon for their livelihoods and culture.

Coal

Coal causes asthma and other health problems, destroys the environment, and releases toxic mercury into communities. Because of its high carbon content, coal emits more CO2 than any other fossil fuel when its burns. It is also the main source of fuel for electricity worldwide and number one human caused contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. Coal-fired power plants represent one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases. Several large coal-fired power plants have been built in developing countries and many more are planned for countries such as India and South Africa. These are financed with multi-million dollar investments from U.S. government agencies such as the U.S. Export-Import Bank. We are working to stop investment in these dirty projects. Click here to learn more about our responsible finance work.  We are also partnering with communities in Alaska to keep coal in the ground.

Click here to learn more about our coal work in Alaska.

Oil & Gas

The most obvious environmental impact from the oil and gas industry is the burning of oil, which releases several smog- causing pollutants and greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. However, the act of exploration and drilling for oil and gas also poses a major threat to fragile ecosystems throughout the world. In recent years, we have seen oil spills destroy communities, soil beaches, and kill countless numbers of birds, marine mammals, fish, and other wildlife. Though it happened over two decades ago, the Exxon Valdez spill continues to affect the ecology of Alaska. Worse yet, we still do not know the full extent of the damage from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Despite these disasters, as our energy demands continue to grow, we continue seeking oil and gas offshore, putting coastal communities, wildlife, and ecosystems at great risk.

Onshore, the building of roads, drilling facilities, and pipelines to support oil recovery operations can severely impact the local ecosystem by fragmenting public lands, displacing wildlife, and destroying habitat. Oil spills, fires, and other pollution contaminate surface and ground water. 

Onshore pipelines cause severe erosion that damages rivers and tributaries and threaten fish species. Offshore drilling poses several risks to the environment including severe disturbances to marine ecosystems, oil spills, and oil tanker accidents. Oil spill incidents near drilling platforms kill marine organisms and birds and lead to coastal contamination. Seismic testing during oil and gas exploration also has particularly harmful impacts to whales and fisheries.

Click to learn more about our work on oil and gas in the Arctic, Alaska, and Russia.

In recent years, many countries have employed a technology that compresses the volume of natural gas to the point of becoming a liquid, making it possible to move overseas across oceans. Natural gas is drilled from far-off gas fields in places like Russia, Peru, Indonesia, and the Middle East, and then super-cooled and converted to liquid form for ease of storage and transport. The liquefied natural gas (LNG) is loaded onto a specially designed tanker, and shipped thousands of miles to coastal terminals. Upon reaching its destination, the LNG is reprocessed to its original gaseous form at a regasification terminal. This entire process does extreme damage to our climate, requires a tremendous amount of energy, and presents a significant public safety hazard. LNG is far from clean the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of LNG can be comparable to those of coal.

We have successfully campaigned to keep LNG out of the state of California and continue to campaign against current LNG Plants proposed for Oregon and also abroad. Click here to learn more about our LNG work.