How petroleum plays a critical role in our healthcare

From power and transportation to PPE and supplies, oil-based plastics are crucial to our hospitals and our health
By Brittany Elves

Most Cana­di­ans typ­i­cal­ly only think about Canada’s oil and gas when fill­ing up their gas tank or light­ing their bar­beque. What they don’t real­ize is that petro­le­um and petro­le­um chem­i­cals are extreme­ly ver­sa­tile and can be found in many prod­ucts we use every day includ­ing plas­tics, tex­tiles, pack­ag­ing, deter­gents, fertilizers.

Our health­care sys­tem also relies on petro­le­um not only to pow­er hos­pi­tals and trans­port patients, but to man­u­fac­ture equip­ment and pharmaceuticals.

How are petro­le­um-based prod­ucts being used in health­care? Here is a breakdown:


Ener­gy con­sump­tion in hos­pi­tals is large­ly used for space heat­ing and cool­ing, steam gen­er­a­tion, ven­ti­la­tion, high pow­ered light­ing, equip­ment usage, hot water, and cook­ing. Nat­ur­al gas pro­vides approx­i­mate­ly two-thirds of the typ­i­cal Cana­di­an hospital’s ener­gy requirements.

The remain­der is pro­vid­ed by elec­tric­i­ty, which can be gen­er­at­ed from nat­ur­al gas, coal, hydro, wind, solar, bio­mass or nuclear sources.


Ambu­lances run on gaso­line and diesel while air ambu­lances and heli­copters run on avi­a­tion fuel. Ontario’s Ornge air ambu­lance ser­vice sent heli­copters and fixed wing air­craft on more than 8,000 mis­sions last year, trav­el­ling over 17 mil­lion kilo­me­tres to ensure life-sav­ing care for crit­i­cal patients. STARS air ambu­lance, which serves Alber­ta, Saskatchewan and Man­i­to­ba, had 2,994 mis­sions last year, and respond­ed to more than 32,000 emer­gency requests.

Per­son­al Pro­tec­tion Equip­ment (PPE) 

PPE is a main­stay in health­care cen­tres. Gloves, res­pi­ra­tors, gog­gles, gowns and face shields are all pro­duced using petrochemicals.

Most of the main com­po­nents of an N‑95 mask are made from petro­le­um prod­ucts such as poly­eth­yl­ene and polypropy­lene, which are poly­mers derived from nat­ur­al gas and pro­duced dur­ing the petro­le­um refin­ing process.

Med­ical Equipment 

Plas­tic is a very com­mon ele­ment con­tained in med­ical equip­ment and devices required for med­ical pro­ce­dures and patient care:

  • X‑rays and MRIs
  • Mon­i­tors
  • IVs
  • Tubes
  • Trays
  • Scopes
  • Wheel­chairs
  • Valves
  • Syringes
  • Stetho­scopes
  • Arti­fi­cial limbs
  • Fiber­glass casts


Petro­le­um and petro­chem­i­cals are used to pro­vide poly­mers for pill cap­sules and coat­ings; and pack­ag­ing for phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals is often pro­duced from plas­tic to keep prod­ucts ster­ile, child proof and safe from breakage.

Recy­cling plas­tics to reduce waste

The Chem­istry Indus­try Asso­ci­a­tion of Cana­da esti­mates 70,000 prod­ucts used by Cana­di­ans every day are made from plastics.

Canada’s plas­tics indus­try is com­mit­ted to solv­ing the plas­tic waste prob­lem and has set a goal to make 100 per cent of plas­tic pack­ag­ing recy­clable or recov­er­able by 2030.

The pro­duc­tion of high­ly recy­clable plas­tics such as poly­eth­yl­ene is imper­a­tive to meet­ing this goal.

Through inno­va­tion and tech­nol­o­gy, the petro­chem­i­cal indus­try is tran­si­tion­ing towards a cir­cu­lar econ­o­my where mate­ri­als are reused and recy­cled in a closed and sus­tain­able loop.