Whether you like it or not, oil is an essential part of our culture and economy. Although electric cars are gaining momentum, most cars are still powered by gasoline. Gasoline is made from crude oil, obtained from oil wells. Oil wells, and the drilling and other activities that accompany oil wells, have positive and negative effects.

How Oil Wells Work

Oil wells are made by drilling into the earth. You can find oil wells on land as well as in the ocean, which is known as offshore drilling. A conventional well is made by drilling straight down. The drill makes a hole, which is walled for stability. After the drilling, a production tree is installed on top, which pumps up the oil from the ground.

Horizontal wells approach oil and natural gas from the side. Horizontal wells are more efficient and have less of an impact on the environment. They can run much deeper than conventional wells and can reinvigorate oil fields where production has stalled.

Environmental Impact

Oil wells have a significant impact on the environment. To drill for oil on land, vegetation and topsoil need to be cleared, which has a significant impact on the wildlife and plant life in the area. It also creates erosion, as there is no topsoil or plant-life to absorb the water. Drilling exploratory wells can also damage natural habitats. Offshore drilling can disturb and destroy ocean life.

When offshore drilling is completed, the oil wells are sometimes left in the ocean. The wells attract coral and other ocean life. Over time, these wells become coral reefs.

Oil wells also create waste, especially when the well is being drilled. The waste includes spilled oil, solvents, hydraulic fluid and garbage. Oil wells also bring water to the surface, which is referred to as "produced water." This reduces water in underground aquifers, which people may rely on, and contains small amounts of oil. Oil spills can also happen at wells, and when they occur it pollutes the environment.

Economic Impact

Oil wells and oil production play an important role in the economy. According to the American Petroleum Institute, 10.3 million jobs in the United States were related to oil and natural gas production in 2015. Many of those working in the oil industry are attracted by the relatively high wages. The average annual income of a derrick operator, for example, is $47,510.

The oil and natural gas industries contributed $1.3 trillion to the U.S. economy. The United States also exports oil to other countries at a rate of over six-million barrels per day as of 2017, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. This also contributes to the U.S. economy.