Upstream oil and gas industry

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Upstream industry is the portion of the oil and natural gas industry that is responsible for finding crude oil and natural gas deposits, along with producing them. Upstream industry is sometimes known as the exploration and production or E&P sector.[1] This part of the petroleum industry includes all activities that happen out in the field including drilling wells, trucking supplies, and mining oil sands. In addition, it includes planning and preparation—including environmental studies and engineering plans.

Figure 1. Representation of upstream, midstream, and downstream industry.[2]

The different sectors within the upstream industry include:[3]

Environmental Impacts

There are several environmental impacts that can be connected to various upstream petroleum activities. There are a wide variety of emissions released into the atmosphere as a result of activities such as flaring. This reduces air quality and increases greenhouse gas emissions. Some of these emissions include benzenes, particulate matter, acid emissions, methane, and carbon dioxide. 2013 estimates report that the upstream oil and gas sector contributed 20% of the sulfur oxide (SOx) emissions, 23% of the nitrogen oxide emissions (NOx), and 29% of the volatile organic compound emissions in Canada.[4] Moreover, water quality and negative environmental effects from land use are a concern with upstream industry. The use of fracking fluids when drilling wells is a concern in terms of groundwater contamination and the extensive water use in oil sands extraction is potentially problematic. As well, the disruption of habitats can arise from development of extraction sites.

Interactive Graph

For an interactive graph showing what pollutants arise from upstream oil industry click here. The values can be compared to emissions from the downstream industry as well. The pollutant being looked at is automatically set to sulfur oxides, but try changing the pollutant to nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, or carbon monoxide!

For Further Reading


  1. PSAC. (June 11, 2015). Industry Overview [Online]. Available:
  2. Created internally by a member of the Energy Education team.
  3. Careers in Oil and Gas. (June 12, 2015). Upstream Petroleum Industry [Online]. Available:
  4. Environment Canada. (July 28, 2015). Air Pollutant Emissions [Online]. Available:

Authors and Editors

Bethel Afework, Jordan Hanania, Kailyn Stenhouse, Jason Donev
Last updated: June 25, 2018
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