top of page

Environment Hurting but Money Making? The Oil Refining Trilemma

Informative Article

Oil Refining is significant and important for many countries: for money-making and for jobs. Should we continue this market even if it is bad for the environment?

by Pranav Arun

Recently, considering the economical and environmental outlook on things, oil refining and the entire oil industry have become the center of discussion for many. It has sparked conflict during the presidential debate and other political events. The truth is the whole lucrative oil industry may be the most harmful industry to the environment. This creates an important and decisive Trilemma around the process of oil refining and the pros and cons of it.

There are many important reasons why a sizable amount of the American population supports oil refining. This industry is one of the most lucrative industries that the United States benefits from. According to Statista, the USA oil and gas industry achieved total revenue of $181 billion in 2018, which was a significant increase from other periods of time. Oil refining is defined as the transformation of crude oil into usable petroleum products such as gasoline. Even though oil refining provides an economical boost its dark side comes with the environment.

This is where the Trilemma is presented: Should we continue this practice of oil refining as it is now, should we severely restrict it because of environmental concerns, or is there a neutral side?

The Supporting Side: People for the Practice of Oil Refining

Many people support this practice of oil refining for many reasons. The average oil-refinery worker makes a salary of $73,830, almost three times the minimum wage. Not only does this industry benefit America on a federal level, it also can provide well-paying jobs for individuals. It is also well-known that this is an important industry, and breakdowns of it could result in rocketing gasoline prices. The industry also depends on oil trade from countries in the Middle East and neighboring Canada, places with high natural oil reserves. Oil refining is a highly lucrative industry on the federal and individual level. It provides numerous jobs that are well-paying, the average pay being well over minimum wage. Downsizing or restricting this industry would limit this money-making upside and limit the amount of jobs. Many common people and economists support this view on the oil industry because of all of these important upsides.

The Negating Side: People for Climate Activism

We all know that the environment is in trouble, and it is time for activism regarding this problem. The real thing this side is arguing for is that we should embody our activism for the climate through restrictions and downsizes of the oil industry, which is an idea that many agree with. Although technological advances help lower the toll oil takes, it is still very bad for the environment. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, exploring and drilling for oil disturbs land and marine ecosystems, and seismic techniques used to explore for oil in the ocean pollutes the ocean and harms marine mammals. Oil spills can occur from accidents at oil wells, pipelines, and oil transportation, which can destroy and pollute animal habitats, and cause devastating explosions and fires. Although this may be helped by increased standards, that may not be the ideal way to limit these disasters. This stance is taken by many environmentalists and scientists.

The Neutral Side: Policies that Keep Oil Production Stable but Enforce Strict Guidelines

There is a neutral side in this Trilemma, and it satisfies both sides to a certain extent. If oil companies are able to keep their oil production where it is now but strictly enforce rigid guidelines to limit harm to the environment, that would benefit both sides. The environment would still be negatively affected, but as minimally as possible. The oil companies would have to use money and workforce to impose these guidelines, lowering the income but still making a sizable amount on the private and federal level. In conclusion, what do you think should be the fate of our successful, yet dangerous, oil industry, especially oil refining?


bottom of page