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Alberta Online Encyclopedia
Canadian Petroleum Heritage
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Prior to the 1800s, light was provided by torches, by candles made from tallow, and by lamps that burned oils rendered from animal fat. Because it burned with less odor and smoke than most fuels, whale oil, particularly oil from the nose of the sperm whale, became popular for lamp oils and candles. The demand for whale oil took a tremendous toll on whales, and some species were driven to the very brink of extinction. The right whale, one of the scarcer varieties, was killed in the early 1800s at a rate of about 15,000 per year. When the growing scarcity of this whale forced attention to other species, only about 50,000 right whales remained. Had demand for whale oil continued, extinction would have undoubtedly claimed several species.

The 3 September 1860 edition of the "California Fireside Journal" sums up the attitude of the times:

"Had it not been for the discovery of Coal Oil, the race of whales would soon have become extinct. It is estimated that ten years would have used up the whole family."

This early environmental problem may have been dealt with, but today’s issues are far from being resolved.

With ongoing scientific investigation it has become clear that the burning of fossil fuels is a major source of the pollutants that create smog, acid rain, affecting climate change, and introducing other health risks into the environment. In response to these problems the petroleum have been working to improve water and air quality as well as continue to make changes that will assist in improving the wildlife habitat. The work of the petroleum companies has been in coordination with environmental and community groups.


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