Oil Refining’s and Gas Processing Effects


Saudi Arabia has three major large cities. Dhahran City is one of the large cities located in Eastern Province of the country. Administrative duties for Saudi oil are majorly carried out at Dhahran city. It has a population of approximately 99,540 people. King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals (KFUPM) was established on 23 September, 1983. The university is located in Dhahran city. The vast petroleum and mineral resources of the city posed a complex and exciting challenge for scientific, technical and management education.

The university was established so as to meet the challenges and in so doing it has adopted advanced training in the fields of science, engineering, and management so as to promote leadership and service in the Kingdom’s petroleum and mineral industries (King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals (KFUPM), 2011). Petroleum fluids are the backbone of modern economics and industrial development. Crude oil and natural gases are environment-friendly in their natural state. However, they are rarely used in their natural state.

This makes it mandatory for the natural gas and crude oil to go through a refining and gas processing. Emissions from the refining process contain products from the natural petroleum that are contaminated with synthetic chemicals making the total emissions harmful to the environment. This work discusses the environmental and health consequences of locating oil refineries and gas processing near human settlement. It also looks at possible remedies to the problems.

Problems of refining oil near to KFUPM campus in Dhahran city

Effects on the environment

The sanitization of crude oil and processing of natural gas involves use of artificial chemicals and catalysts such as lead, chromium, glycol, amines among others. These synthetic chemicals contaminate the end products and are burnt along with the fuels producing numerous lethal by-products which can be in gases, liquid or solid form. The emission of such air pollutant that did not exist in nature can cause environmental effects which can permanently dent the global ecosystem (Islam, Chhetri & Khan, 2010).

The problem with the synthetic additives emerges from the fact that they are not compatible with the natural system and therefore not assimilated with biomasses in a way that would preserve natural order. Currently, for every barrel of crude oil approximately 15% synthetic and /or engineered materials are added, these are highly toxic to the environment. Oil and its associated products are composed of complex molecule that when burned produce relatively high levels of carbon dioxide and air pollutants like sulfur dioxide (a key cause of acid rain) and nitrogen oxides (a key component of smog).

Natural CO2 are not harmful to environment. The produced industrial CO2 is considered solely responsible for the current global warming and climate change problems that are experienced at Dhahran and other parts of the world. Therefore, petroleum products and their consumption are also one of largest sources of toxic air emissions which are harmful to the environment (Islam, Chhetri & Khan, 2010).

Petroleum is used to manufacture a lot of products ranging from lubricants, solvents, oil-based paints, pesticides and gasoline among others. These products are used in daily life and are always inappropriately disposed after use. Further, waste products from the oil refineries are improperly disposed of down drains and sewage pipes leading to the oceans or rivers. All these add over time and enter water ways which in the long run turn out to be very harmful. Therefore it is important to dispose of such substances properly, keep vehicles in good condition and reduce water that runs from yards and driveway (Taverne, 2008).

Effects on the surrounding

Thousands of tons of oil are emitted into the natural environment in Dhahran city from various sources each year and another millions of tons worldwide. The bulk of this comes from natural seeps where oil naturally flows out of the ground and onto land or waterways while others come from human activities in that area. The largest source after natural seeps is the land based and storm water runoff.

This is what leaks out of the cars into the streams, rivers and oceans. Such lead to water pollution which subsequently causes death of green plantation in the area. Further, locating the refineries next to residential places causes a lot of noise from the constantly operating machines. Such loads of noise cause distraction to the human settlement in the region (Taverne, 2008).

Maintenance cost

All machineries in use in any factory for manufacturing of goods, mineral mining or petroleum mining require frequent maintenance so as minimize breakdown during normal operations. Petroleum refinery involves a complex process which employs numerous heavy machineries. Such have to be maintained so as to ensure smooth flow of work. Maintenance can take different forms, it can be preventive, reactive, predictive and reliability centered. A manufacturing company can adopt one or all of the forms of maintenance.

Further, factories also require cleaning up after a period of time. The interval of cleaning up period will depend on the nature of output being manufactured. These exercises are very costly to the company. They demand a lot money and idle time. Due to the economic and social cost implications, most companies often opt to clean up their factories after several years say 10 to 25 (The New York Times Company, 2011). A lot of toxic wastes usually emerge from such clean ups and maintenance and are always discharged to the surrounding environment. This poses a great risk to the population

Investment cost of a refinery

Another environmental impact of the oil refinery is the lands taken up by all the wells, pipelines, roads, processing plants and other facilities needed to remove oil from the ground and turn it into commercial products. This is often called the foot print. Approximately this may occupy about 700,000 acres of land. Further, the machineries used for the whole process, that is, from mining to processing of the crude oil till final products are stored are very costly. Therefore initiating an oil refinery requires a multi billion investment in land and machineries. The initiative is very costly at Dhahran is very costly (The New York Times Company, 2011).

Problems of gas processing near to KFUPM campus in Dhahran city

Effect on the environment

Natural gases found in the natural gas reservoirs are complex mixtures of hundreds of different compounds. “A usual natural gas stream consists of a mixture of methane, ethane, propane, butane and other hydrocarbons, water vapors, oil and condensates, hydrogen sulfides, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, other gases and solid particles” (Islam, Chhetri & Khan, 2010). The compound is a natural source that is not a threat to the environment. Gas processing is a multifaceted process involving separating the gases into desired components for different uses.

The separation process leads to emission of harmful gases such as carbon monoxide, ozone, methane and sulfur dioxides in the region. These gases are commonly known as greenhouse gases. They cause air pollution which poses a great health risk to the residence of Dhahran. Further, emission of these poisonous gases into the environment causes rise in temperatures (global warming) in Dhahran city. Therefore, the residence of Dhahran may not take pleasure in the natural temperatures because climate of that region is distorted by gas emissions (Kumar, 1997).

Impact on health

Other than global warming, residences of Dhahran city are exposed to dreadful health diseases resulting from emanation of poisonous gases such as hydrogen sulphide. Contact with these gases may cause diseases such as cancer, acute respiratory symptoms, headaches, light-headedness, nausea, abridged cardiovascular workings, arrhythmia and brain damage among others.

These diseases are known to be very costly to treat and they may take several years before they get completely done away with in human body. Due to the cost implication (which is not affordable by many) of obtaining medication, many people opt to live with the diseases awaiting death. The petroleum gas processing industry in Dhahran is health hazardous and it generally reduces life expectancy of the entire population (Manning and Thompson, 1995).

Expensive plants

The cost of setting up a gas processing plant is enormously high for the reason that the process requires advanced machines and special containers for storing the end products. This investment always cost a lot of money and time. In most instances, an investor would concentrate on the economic cost ignoring the social costs such as pollution caused by such investments (The New York Times Company, 2011).

Solutions for refining oil and gas processing near to KFUPM campus in Dhahran city

Relocating the refineries

Due to the environmental problems created by the oil refinery and gas processing factory in Dhahran city, solutions have to be put forward to help mitigate future risks. Such solutions should be beneficial to both the proprietors and the residence. First, the government should consider changing location of that plant by relocating it far away from human settlement or chose place near the oceans or big water bodies. This may help reduce the direct effect of pollution on people and it may be offer the factory enough space for expansion and better place to dispose of non toxic wastes (Kumar, 1997).

Investing in other sources of energy such as solar and thermal

Other than changing location of the plant, the government of Dhahran city should consider producing less harmful sources of energy such as solar and thermal energy. Solar and thermal sources are easy to produce, efficient, causes minimal pollution and impact less negatively on the environment and human race. In addition, they require very minimal space for their generation. The world is moving towards inventing and producing solar, thermal and nuclear energy and it beneficial to be part of the changing world (Kumar, 1997).

Buying refineries in other countries

Instead of concentrating all the refineries in one city, the government should consider putting up refineries in other countries as foreign direct investments or as well buying production plants in foreign countries, especially countries which are not densely populated. These would be beneficial to both countries in the sense that there will be economic development in the host country and the funding country will earn income from their investments. Also, it will help improve relations between the two countries (Manning and Thompson, 1995).


Despite the widespread environmental, economic and political consequence, the world’s reliance on petroleum is expected to grow. Advances in oil well technology have allowed extraction in the deep ocean beyond the continental shelf. Governments of certain countries heavily rely on income generated from export of petroleum and gases for their operations. Therefore, refinery of oil and production of gases is expected to continue immensely in the near future. A nation which produces these products should come up with a plan of refinery that would not be detrimental to the environment and residence. Ideally, oil mines and refineries are habitually located quite far away from human settlement.

This is because of the negative impact of the pollutants to the population. Despite the economic gains from trading in oil, it is not proper to locate refiners in Dhahran city which is inhabited. The government should curtail erecting more refineries in human settlement. As an alternative, it should consider investing in other countries or exploring other sources of energy such as solar and thermal. In the process of generating revenue for the country, it should not have human settlement and environment at stake.


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