Definition of Fossil Fuel

What Are Fossil Fuels?

Fossil fuels are formed over the course of millions of years from organic matter such as prehistoric animals, sea organisms, and plants as they decay, are compressed, and heated and then trapped underground where they have remained. Once discovered they are mined or pumped out to the earth’s surface and used as a source of fuel such as coal, oil, and natural gas.

Fossil fuels are non-renewable sources of energy, which means once they have been burned and depleted there will be no more left for human consumption for millions of years. In other words, no human effort will result in the reproduction of new fossil fuels. Crude oil (called petroleum) is the fossil fuel used most frequently by humans, as it is easier to extract than other forms of fossil fuels.

Another notorious, but somewhat “new” form of fossil fuels are bituminous sands, alternatively called oil sands, tar sands, or oil shale. Oil that is suspended in sands in a gooey mixture just beneath the topsoil is extracted by stripping entire forests of vegetation, then mixed with enormous quantities of water and chemicals which are dumped in “tailings ponds” and then turned into usable fuels. Mining bituminous sands has been called a slow-motion oil spill because of the widespread environmental destruction and inefficiency of the processes used to extract it.

The burning of fossil fuels – including gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, kerosene, and so on – generates greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide, which have been linked to human-caused climate change. Burning fossil fuels also results in other environmental pollutants, including air pollution, water and soil pollution, and more.

  • Burning coal emits sulphur dioxide which contributes to the creation of acid rain
  • Mining coal is dangerous for human laborers and also results in widespread physical scars on the planet
  • Extracting oil often results in oil spills which harm local soil, water systems, and wildlife

Renewable sources of energy, such as wind power, wave energy, solar power, geothermal, and low-impact hydro, are much more environmentally-safe, clean, and plentiful.

Fossil Fuel Articles

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