Terry Tamminen (Author & Environmental Policy Advisor) gives expert video advice on: Why do oil refineries make good targets for terrorists? and more...
What is an "oil refinery"?
An oil refinery is a place where the heavy crude oil which is taken out of the ground is turned into useful products. Oil, as it comes out of the ground, is not terribly useful but, under extreme heat, through a process called cracking where other chemicals and materials are added to the oil (to facilitate this cracking process), you end up with the lighter fluids that we're more familiar with at the gasoline pump; that kind of clear to golden looking liquid that we call gasoline certainly doesn't look anything like the heavy, black oil that comes out of the ground. So, it's the refinery that turns the oil from one into the other. It also creates other products like kerosene and wax that we use and the materials that go into plastics.
What effects do oil refineries have on the environment?
Refineries are really just a throw back to the era of Dickens, in the sense that they're terrible industrial facilities that destroy the communities in which they're found. We now know for example that people who live down wind of a refinery as far as 30 miles suffer elevated levels of cancer and lung disease. So, even in a modern American city where there are refineries within a 30 mile radius, people's health is at risk.
What are "fugitive emissions"?
Fugitive emissions are the air pollution emissions that come from an oil refinery that is not under any control; thus the term fugitive. At an oil refinery there are a lot of smoke stacks and a lot of processing going on, and all of that can be regulated. But when you have the miles and miles of pipes that you typically see in an oil refinery, that move the partially processed products from one place to another, there are typically vents that allow gases to escape, or just cracks in the pipe that allow fugitive emissions to take place. These fugitive emissions pollute the air and the ground.
What is "Sulfur Dioxide" (SO2)?
Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is the gaseous part, or the vaporous part, of sulfur. We are all familiar with sulfur and that very unique smell of rotting eggs, and sulfur dioxide is one of the criteria pollutants that we seek to regulate under the “Clean Air Act”, because sulfur dioxide is very toxic to humans.
What effect does Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) have on the human body?
Sulphur dioxide was responsible for what was called "acid rain" back in the 1960s and '70s, where there was so much Sulphur dioxide from our burning of coal in power plants and from burning very dirty, high sulphur-content gasoline, that the amount of sulphur dioxide in the air, when it would rain, actually turned the rain acidic. And so as that very acidic rain came down on plants, it killed them; it literally ate them, oxidized them.
What is "eco-terrorism"?
Eco-terrorism is a term that's usually placed on those eco-terrorist organizations that feel that they have to actually strike back with some form of violence. Whether it's smashing cars at a car dealership, burning subdivisions that are guilty of sprawl and destroying natural habitat, or trying to sink a whaling boat. Eco-terrorism is used by the environmental organizations that feel they have to use that form of extreme behavior of eco-terrorism to make their point.
Why do oil refineries make good targets for terrorists?
Well, oil refineries make great targets for terrorism of all kinds, whether it's eco-terrorism or, unfortunately, the kind of terrorism we're seeing in the middle east and 9/11. Because they're very open, oil refineries are very easy to see. Imagine as the terrorists flew airplanes into the world trade center, how easy it would have been to target a large oil refinery. They make great targets in that sense because oil refineries are obviously full of combustible materials, so once ignited it would be very hard to put out the fire at an oil refinery. It would disrupt our economy because we depend on oil refineries to provide fuels that power our transportation system. So not only would an attack on an oil refinery be a loss of life and property, but it would have a very large economic and environmental impact.