how does oil drilling affect climate change

How does oil drilling affect climate change?  The consensus among scientists is nearly unanimous: the combustion of fossil fuels is undeniably playing a role in climate change.

However, there is less consensus on the precise manner in which it is impacting the increase in global temperatures. And that leaves people with the question, “How does oil drilling cause climate change?”

Let’s find out more about it!

Oil drilling leads to climate change by increasing temperatures, and directly affecting wildlife through the construction of sites and oil spills. 

The Issue of Increasing Global Temperatures

the issue of increasing global temperatures

The global temperature has increased by 1°C compared to pre-industrial levels. Does this solely come down to the release of greenhouse gases like CO2?

Many experts believe that the observed global warming could not be solely attributed to CO2 levels.

And that is why they have also shifted their focus to the significance of thermal emissions.

Not only do fossil fuels release greenhouse gases, but they also emit a significant amount of heat that escapes into the atmosphere.

But where does oil drilling come into play? 

Drilling Away Clean Air?

drilling away clean air

The rise of oil and gas drilling is rapidly transforming into a major contributor to air pollution in the United States, posing a significant threat to public health and well-being.

The extraction and processing of oil and natural gas, as well as their distribution and storage, result in the emission of various harmful pollutants.

These pollutants contribute to the deterioration of air quality, making the skies more polluted, hazy, and detrimental to our health.

Additionally, these activities contribute to the ongoing issue of global warming

The Issue of Polluted Air and Ozone

the issue of polluted air and ozone

Drilling in the Western region is contributing to elevated levels of ground-level ozone.

And that is quite noticeable in:

  • Montana
  • Colorado
  • New Mexico
  • Utah
  • Wyoming
Fact: Studies show that oil and gas development in the western United States, particularly in the Four Corners region, could have a detrimental impact on regional ozone levels.   

How Does Oil Drilling Affect Climate Change?

oil drilling's impact on climate change

Oil drilling can have a direct impact on increasing temperatures, which then lead to all sorts of problems around the world.

Drilling oil can lead to an increase in global warming because it eliminates the “thermal barrier” that keeps the heat from Earth’s core in check. 

The Research on Thermal Emissions and Oil Drilling

In 2009, a pair of Swedish scientists made a case for the significance of thermal emissions in comparison to CO2 in terms of global temperature increase.

A couple of years later, a pair of Chinese scientists put forward the idea that the earth’s internal heat might play a role in the increasing temperatures.

research on thermal emissions and oil drilling

According to their perspective, fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas found deep within the Earth’s layers and crevices function as a thermal barrier.

Therefore, drilling for oil can lead to climate change. 

More about the Concept of Thermal Barrier

This concept is akin to how the layer of fat beneath the skin helps retain body heat and prevents it from dissipating into the surrounding atmosphere.

In order to explore this hypothesis within the Earth’s crust, experts examined the statistics on worldwide fossil fuel extraction.

They compared it with data on temperature fluctuations across land and sea.

more about the concept of thermal barrier

According to their findings, there is a potential correlation between accelerated temperature increases and the extraction of fossil fuels from underground sources. 

More about Oil Drilling and Rising Heat

From 2007 to 2017, a whopping 45.5 billion tonnes of oil was extracted from the Earth’s crust.

When oil and gas are extracted, the empty spaces become filled with water, which is not as efficient at insulating.

This results in an increased transfer of heat from the Earth’s core to the surface, leading to the warming of both land and ocean.

It is due to this particular concept that many locations now experience significantly elevated rates of warming.

the arabian gulf

Some of them include:

  • The Arabian Gulf
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Alaska
  • The North Sea

All this is because the rate of oil drilling is very high in these regions of the world.

Fact: The Arctic has experienced one of the most rapid warming rates, with temperatures increasing by 0.6°C per decade since 1978.   

Other Ways Oil Drilling Affects Climate Change

other ways oil drilling affects climate change

Increasing temperatures caused by oil drilling can affect climate change in a number of ways.

But, oil drilling can have a direct impact on the climate in other ways as well: 

It Can Ruin Wildlands

The construction of infrastructure for oil extraction can have significant effects on natural landscapes.

The utilization of heavy machinery during the construction of facilities, roads, and drilling sites can significantly damage vast stretches of untouched wilderness.

it can ruin wildlands

The harm is frequently permanent.

These advancements often result in the loss of extensive rangelands crucial for both wildlife and human populations.

Even when these companies wrap up and move locations, it takes centuries for wildlife to bounce back into that region. 

An Important Consideration

Additionally, numerous fossil fuel projects are situated in the Western region, which experiences a semi-arid climate with limited rainfall.

These conditions make it even trickier to regain a complete recovery.

Fact: Over 12 million acres of public lands are currently dedicated to fossil fuel production, which is approximately the size of multiple Yellowstone National Parks. 

Drilling Affects Wildlife

drilling affects wildlife

The extraction of oil and gas poses a significant threat to wildlife.

The noise, activity, and traffic caused by drilling operations can disturb animals’ communication, breeding, and nesting.  

Wyoming’s mule deer and pronghorn antelope are among the species that have been greatly affected.

During the winter season, those pronghorns decide to move south to the Upper Green River Valley to avoid the burden of heavy snowfall.   

The Impact of Oil Drilling

the impact of oil drilling

Lately, animals embarking on this timeless journey have encountered a range of challenges, particularly due to high levels of activity in prominent natural gas fields.

The pronghorn must maneuver around massive well pads and loud compressor stations in search of any remaining untouched forage.

The potential expansion of energy development in southern regions may ultimately have significant effects on the population of this herd. 

Oil Drilling and Methane Hydrates

oil drilling and methane hydrates

In addition to the immediate release of methane during drilling and production, there is also the issue of methane hydrates.

These are extensive reserves of methane locked within icy formations beneath the ocean floor.

The methane hydrates are extremely responsive to fluctuations in temperature and pressure.

With the Earth heating up as a result of climate change, there is a possibility of destabilizing these hydrates, leading to the release of significant quantities of methane into the atmosphere. 

Methane hydrates are a significant, yet unpredictable, feedback loop in the climate system.

Fact: The potential release of substantial amounts of methane from hydrates could exacerbate global warming and result in unforeseeable and potentially disastrous outcomes. 

The Issue of Oil Spills

the issue of oil spills

Massive oil spills pose a significant threat to wildlife, resulting in devastating consequences for marine ecosystems that can persist for extended periods. 

An Example to Consider

Consider the infamous Deepwater Horizon spill by BP in the Gulf of Mexico.

In 2010, an unfortunate incident occurred, resulting in oil dispersion over an extensive area of 57,500 square miles in the sea.

Tragically, this incident led to the loss of around 800,00 seabirds, 5,000 marine mammals, and over 7,600 sea turtles. 

The Seriousness of the Oil Spills

the seriousness of the oil spills

Not all oil and gas extraction spills make the news, but smaller ones can still pose risks.

The lubricating fluids, commonly referred to as “mud,” that are injected into wells should ideally be collected in lined pits for proper disposal.

However, they frequently experience leaks and become scattered throughout drilling locations.

Fact: Data shows a total of 2,179 spills were reported in New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming, in 2020. 

Fossil Fuel Extraction Affects Local Economy

fossil fuel extraction affects local economy

The detrimental impacts of oil and gas can harm local communities that rely on tourism as their main source of income.

Hunters, anglers, hikers, birder watchers, and vacationing families venture into the wilderness to immerse themselves in the awe-inspiring wonders of nature.

However, they just do not think of venturing out into areas where they have oil drilling going on.

It is because you may notice many disturbances in those areas, including:

  • Power poles
  • Oil tanks
  • Bustling roads
  • Noisy compressors

Engaging in outdoor activities significantly boosts national and local economies.

Fact: As per data, national park visitors in 2019 contributed approximately $21.0 billion to the economy and helped sustain around 341,000 jobs. 


How does oil drilling affect climate change? Oil drilling leads to a reduction in oil reserves, which ultimately causes the earth to lose its “thermal barrier.”

Consequently, the temperatures go up and contribute to global warming. Moreover, oil drilling affects local and national economies, disrupts wildlife, and alters wildlands.

Therefore, global challenges related to climate change necessitate international collaboration to tackle them effectively.