Environmental problems

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The production and use of petroleum has given rise to several environmental problems. Toxic crude oil can be spilled on land or in water, poisoning plants and animals. The burning of fuels derived from petroleum releases toxic gases that pollute the air. Some scientists even believe that the burning of petroleum fuels contributes to global climate change. Spills and seeps. Petroleum can spill during many stages of its production, transportation, and consumption. Petroleum can leak from wells on land or in the sea. Pipelines can break, causing petroleum to spill during transportation. Oil tankers may collide or sink, releasing huge loads of crude oil into the water. Accidents or disasters can cause toxic petroleum products to spill from power plants, refineries, and even gasoline stations. Some petroleum also seeps naturally from openings in the sea floor. Spills and seeps release about 15 million barrels of crude oil into the environment each year. This makes up only about /(1/5) of the oil consumed in one day. About 10 percent of this oil seeps naturally from the ocean floor. Petroleum companies spill about 28 percent of this oil during production and transportation. The remaining 62 percent is released in spills during industrial and private consumption. Although only a small fraction of petroleum produced is spilled, petroleum spills are a major environmental problem. Most of the chemicals in petroleum are toxic to living things. Petroleum spills can poison plants, animals, and even people. They can also be difficult and expensive to clean up. Large petroleum spills, such as those caused by accidents involving giant oil tankers, often provoke public anger at oil companies. Such an angry outcry occurred in 1989, when the tanker Exxon Valdez struck a reef off southeastern Alaska, spilling nearly 11 million gallons (42 million liters) of crude oil. Air pollution. The burning of petroleum fuels generates exhaust gases and particles that pollute the air. Petroleum fuels burned to power vehicles, heat homes and businesses, and generate electric power are a leading cause of air pollution in many countries.