Petroleum, Refineries, and the Future

Global Environmental Justice: Holding Oil Refineries Responsible


There are currently around seven hundred oil refineries in operation around the world. According to author Ivica Billege, MSc, “Oil refineries are the basis of the industry branch called oil refining, where oil products are obtained by oil processing” (401). Most refineries focus on creating transportation fuels, and according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, “refineries produce, from a 42-gallon barrel of crude oil, about 19 to 20 gallons of motor gasoline, 12 gallons of distillate fuel distillate fuel, most of which is sold as diesel fuel, and 4 gallons of jet fuel” (“Oil: Crude and Petroleum Products Explained”). Oil and its products, created with refineries, have become a critical albeit contested par of American society. Author Matthew T. Huber sums up the role of refineries in the "American way of life" in chapter 3 of his book Lifeblood:

" Refineries, and their petroleum products, saturate the landscape of suburban social reproduction—from gasoline-fired automobility to vinyl-sided homes and petroleum-based food commodities. Just as refineries produced their own set of discrete fractionated products distilled and cracked from crude oil, petroleum products provided the material basis for the appearance of fractionated lives, each tidily contained and controlled within the private spaces of the car, the home, and the body. As such, refineries actively constitute the ability of millions of individuals to ask the core question posed in chapter 1: 'What will I make of my life?'" (64).

While refineries are responsible for creating the oil products we use and love on an everyday basis, many of us do not know how the sites for refineries are chosen. Although Ivica Billege claims, “their representation by location is greatly determined by several crucial factors; vicinity of oil sources, vicinity of intense oil products consumption or population density, vicinity of oil transportation routes, economic potential for refinery construction,” many critics would argue that the global siting of oil refineries has resulted in environmental injustice towards various indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities, and the economically disadvantaged. Because of this, the oil consuming public should be aware and hold oil refining companies accountable for their actions.

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