Fossil Fuel

According to the United States EIA, three fossil fuels—petroleum, natural gas, and coal—have provided more than 80% of the total energy in the US for over a century. Fossil fuels are major resources for the overall energy framework of the United States and the rest of the world—but where did they come from, and what are their environmental impacts? Here are six things you probably didn't know about fossil fuels.

1. Fossil fuels don't actually come from fossils.

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The term "fossil fuel" can be misleading—it refers to fuels that come from ancient life forms that lived millions of years ago on the Earth and have remained in the ground for eons. The most commonly burned fossil fuels are coal, petroleum, and natural gas, which were produced from the biomass of plants and animals. The biomass of ancient life forms has changed over time to produce flammable and abundant fossil fuels, which are a major energy source in the United States.

2. Fossil fuels are probably in your pocket.

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As a key ingredient in the production of plastics, natural gas is used to make everything from food packaging to medical equipment to vehicles to the smartphones and credit cards you carry around daily. Natural gas liquids (NGLs) include ethane, propane, butane, isobutane, and pentane, as well as a smaller amount of heavier hydrocarbons.

3. The burning of fossil fuels causes acid rain.

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According to the experts at Fossil Fuels, the primary source of acid rain events can be linked to the burning of fossil fuels. When fossil fuels are burned in power plants, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides are released into the atmosphere. When sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides react with water, gas, and other natural substances, they form airborne sulfuric and nitric acid, which are highly soluble in water.

After winds blow these gases into the upper atmosphere, they return to Earth in the form of acid rain. In 2020, renewable energy supporters point to acid rain as another reason why we should turn to renewable energy sources and abandon the use of fossil fuels.

4. Fossil fuels are more expensive than renewable energy.

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The idea that renewable energy is more expensive than fossil fuels isn't true—instead, the energy produced by renewables like solar energy and wind energy is just as affordable as energy produced by the burning of fossil fuels. In some cases, renewable resources are actually cheaper than fossil fuels.

According to Energy Sage, some solar panels can generate power at roughly half the cost of fossil fuels like coal and natural gas. Over time, the cost of renewable energy sources is predicted to grow cheaper.

5. Fracking is linked to methane spikes in the Earth's atmosphere.

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Natural gas advocates suggest that natural gas is an environmentally-friendly fossil fuel because it produces half the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions of coal. However, the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions—that is, the combined emissions involved with the extraction, combustion, methane and CO2 release—mean that fracking for natural gas creates negative impacts similar to coal production.

In recent years, scientists revealed that hydraulic fracturing releases a significant amount of natural gas—which consists of CO2 and methane—directly into the atmosphere. In other words, an increase in fracking can damage the ozone layer and contribute to global warming.

6. Energy consumption is predicted to double by 2040.

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Today, nonrenewable fossil fuels, including crude oil, coal, and natural gas, are the world's main energy source. According to recent projections from the United States Department of Energy, economic growth in developing counties like China, Brazil, and Indonesia will cause global energy consumption to nearly double by 2040.

As the global energy demand for fossil fuels continues to grow, the US EIA predicts that fossil fuels such as coal, crude oil, and natural gas will remain the primary energy sources in the future.

Fossil fuels are millions of years old, but global energy consumption has decreased dramatically in recent years, depleting fossil fuel reserves and adversely affecting climate change. Ultimately, understanding the pros and cons of fossil fuels can help you make informed decisions regarding renewable energy and energy efficiency.

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