How many people die to make a gallon of gasoline?

Oil has been linked to terrorism and war for a long time. The production process is very dangerous, and accidents do happen. Also, burning the gas produces pollution, which causes a lot of deaths. Considering all of these issues, how many people die per gallon? Or alternatively, how many gallons to one life?

The global average death rate is ~ 8 people per thousand. There are 7.3 billion people in the world. Around 58 million people die a year.

There are around 200 billion gallons of gasoline produced per year.

This gives a lower limit of around 3,700 gallons of gas per death. This is a wild underestimation since it would attribute all deaths to gasoline production.

How do you take into account that we wouldn’t have nearly a population of 7.3 billion if it wasn’t for the economic productivity that gasoline affords?

Ref for very round numbers about half of crude oil is made into gasoline. The other half is everything else. About 85% of crude goes into fuel of one sort or another with the last 15% going into products that aren’t used by burning them.

Some of the issues the OP raises are connected to production, which ought to be measured versus total crude extraction. Others are directly connected to gasoline as such. Munging that all together we might choose about 75% as the relevant adjustment fraction.

So taking Snarky Kong’s first-order estimate as a starting point, the 3700 gallons ought to be more like 3700/0.75 ~= 4900 gallons per death.

FWIW I agree with the rest of SK’s comments. Petroleum is the only reason today looks any different than the 1700s.

Indeed, as a source of energy, oil and gas are probably about the least dangerous. No doubt, an oil rig is a dangerous place, but overall very few people die. Very very few.

Coal is the dire energy source. Miners die with terrible regularity in third world mines. The pollution kills via a wide range of problems, from simple respiratory illness right through to an increase in cancer deaths. Burning oil and gas is significantly less polluting nowadays. Modern rules on use of low sulphur bunker oil mean even the marine industry is cleaning up.

As to non-industrial energy sources, forestry probably kills more than the entire oil industry.

The link between oil and terrorism or war isn’t peculiar to oil. Any valuable commodity can engender such problems. We have had similar issues with anything from diamonds to rubber. Not to mention the illegal drug trade. Opium must rate as a particularly devastating commodity relative to its volume. Right now we have almost entire countries that are dysfunctional due to trade in cocaine, with regular wars, murder, kidnapping and institutionalised corruption.

When you’re looking at wood as an energy source, as it was for most of human history, don’t forget to count in the number of people who died because they didn’t have enough of it, because all of the nearby wood was already chopped down and burned.

How many people died a century ago to dig coal out of the ground?

How many people died to make my wedding ring?

Where do you stop with silly statistics like these?

As bob++ so sensibly points out, this gets silly quickly …

How many people live on pennies a day so I/we upper-middle-class first world folks can live in levels of luxury unimagined by royalty 200 years ago?

I recall a bumper sticker from 30-plus years ago.

It sorta lost its relevance after Chernobyl, but up until that point it was factually accurate if a bit crass.

Since there are many highly debatable aspects to this question, let’s move it to Great Debates.

General Questions Moderator

A search for “deaths per kilowatt hour” will pull up several analyses. I’m not sure of what quality.

The flight attendant is glaring at me, so I can’t check further right now.

I find your analysis intriguing and wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

Using the same logic, I decided to finally put numbers to the KDQ (Kardashian Death Quotient). There are six Kardashians (seven if you want to count Kim twice).

Therefore, each Kardashian is responsible for 9.67 million deaths per year. That’s assuming that the Kardashians are responsible for all deaths, which I find reasonable.

Something should be done about this horrible scourge.

Except that Snarky_Kong was not claiming that his figures were reasonable: Quite the opposite, in fact, he acknowledges that it’s a wild underestimation. But it does provide an absolute lower bound. Someone else can now provide an upper bound, so we can say “The number of gallons per death is between X and Y”. And then we can refine both of those bounds, until X and Y eventually get close enough together that we can figure that we’ve pretty well answered the question. What he did was the start of the analysis, not the end.

It was never factually accurate. The Chappaquiddick incident happened in 1969, killing one person.

The SL-1 reactor explosion and meltdown in 1961 killed three people 8 years before Chappaquiddick.

Yeah, I think Sam got a little carried away there. SK is saying, “it can’t be any lower than this [gallons per death]”.

Speaking of mines, how many deaths have been caused by fire damp?
And how many die in catastrophes such as occurred in Centralia, Illinois, in 1947 (111 fatalities)? :frowning:


I suspect the bumper sticker said something like “… commercial nuclear powerplants.” Which SL-1 wasn’t.

In addition to the SL-1 casualties you mention for sure somebody someplace was killed in a uranium ore mine prior to 1969 too. And probably not in a way that had anything to do with radioactivity.

My point there was not to debate nuclear power safety. Or Ted Kennedy’s driving. Rather to point out that people can make all sorts of spurious connections and correlations between people dying and industrial production. And the more tenuous the connection, the dumber the implied policy prescription that results.

I’m guessing the bumper sticker left out the word “commercial”. THe SL-1 incident was on a experimental research reactor, not a commercial power generation reactor.

But after we grease the Kardashians we’ll be left with an extra ~10 million people per year *every *year. Think of the overcrowding! What about the poor planet!!! Waah!!11! :slight_smile:

What Chronos and John Mace said. I wasn’t giving an estimate, just bounding it.

Guys, I was joking.

The Whoosh is strong in this one I feel.