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Mining Fossil Fuels

We are reminded how dangerous our dependence on fossil fuels can be any time there's a mention of tragedies like the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster or West Virginia's Massey coal mine explosion. Although collecting, processing, and distributing fossil fuels is a dangerous job for the workers in these industries, it also takes a toll on the environment and surrounding communities.

Coal

Coal mining can completely eliminate any existing vegetation, destroy the genetic soil profile, displace or completely obliterate wildlife habitats, and degrade air quality. In addition, mine tailing dumps can seep into waterways and aquifers, negatively impacting the local ecology and health of people living or working in the area. Even with today's technology and skilled personnel, coal mining continues to be a dangerous job and news of miners being trapped, injured, or killed is much more common than it should be.

Oil

Like coal, oil can also be difficult to harvest. This is especially the case for offshore oil drilling, which most commonly takes place off the coasts of continents, because of its remote locations and harsh environment. The combination of inexperience, rush to drill, and trivial incidents have the potential to cause anything from a minor oil spill to a major catastrophic accident.

Besides drilling for oil, its transportation can also become a problem due to ruptures in pipelines buried beneath the ground. In the case of Montana's Yellowstone River oil spill, the company responsible for the oil line was contacted twice within a year by local officials regarding concerns that the line could be affected by river erosion. Following a quick survey after the first complaint and a review of records from the U.S. Department of Transportation after the second complaint, the oil company deemed the line safe. One month later, the pipeline ruptured and had already contaminated as much as 240 miles of the Yellowstone River in only 5 days.

While an oil spill near a body of water causes immediate danger to fish and wildlife, it can also affect the health and property of people living in the area. Because oil has the potential to remain in the environment long after a spill has been contained, anything living in that location may continue to suffer from the effects of the spill for years.

Natural Gas

Searching for natural gas involves drilling wells into the earth's surface, either on land or offshore. One particular method of drilling that's been used for the past 60 years has received a lot of scrutiny lately. Hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," is a process that pumps a chemical fluid into a wellbore at a sufficient rate so as to create enough pressure to fracture the rock formation and then extend the crack further to maximize the amount of natural gas that can flow from the earth. Concerns associated with fracking include: potential contamination of groundwater, possibility of mishandling solid toxic waste, potential risks to air quality, and unintended migration of gases and fracking chemicals to the surface.