Petroleum, Refineries, and the Future

Oil Refineries and Environmental Injustice

Oil Refineries in the United States
One area of the United States in which oil refineries contribute to environmental racism is known as “Cancer Alley”, in Louisiana. According to sociologist Beverly Wright, “Louisiana’s overdependency on petrochemical production has placed its economy and the health of Louisiana’s citizens and its environment in dire straits” (89). Louisiana's position near the oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico allowed the state’s rise to becoming one of the leading producers of refined oil; some 135 oil refineries exist in Louisiana today (90). According to Matthew T. Huber, author of Lifeblood, the sites of oil refineries were chosen for a specific reason:

"the average refinery today requires vast amounts of territory— at least one thousand hectares and often more —to accommodate the complex set of processes necessary in the transformation of crude: desalting, dewatering, distillation, cracking, blending, coking, and waste disposal. This need for territory suited the Gulf Coast of the United States, as refineries were able to purchase vast amounts of land from formerly slave-owning plantation owners." (68).

Many refineries are located along the Mississippi River, “one of the poorest, slowest-growing sections of Louisiana” (92), and since this time, Louisiana has “consistently ranked highest in the nation in toxic environmental releases and waste generation” (93). Many communities of African Americans and other people of color are “sandwiched” between these petrochemical plants; “corridor residents have to endure greater health risks and sometimes die from diseases they believe are related to chemical exposure” (102), according to the study by Wright.

Works Cited

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