"Fossil fuels" is a general term used to described materials such as coal, petroleum and natural gas that are obtained by mining or by drilling deep into the earth.
All fossil fuels began their existence as prehistoric plants and animals. When these creatures and plants died, their matter became covered with earth and was slowly transformed into simple organic molecules that we know today as petroleum (oil), coal and natural gas (methane). This underground process occurred over millions of years, at very high pressures and temperatures. Oil and gas are obtained by drilling deep into the earth. Coal is obtained by mining the material from deep underground. Coal has been mined for thousands of years, but the first oil well was drilled in Pennsylvania in 1859.
Fossil fuels are the major source of energy throughout the world. In the United States, oil provides 95 per cent of all the energy used for transportation. Coal is currently the leading source of energy for electrical production, providing 53 per cent of all electricity. Renewable energy sources such as wind and solar provide less than 0.5 per cent of total electricity production. Therefore, it is quite evident that fossil fuels are very important to the quality of life in America and will be relied on for many decades to come.
The Future of Fossil Fuels
Today, the reality of continued use of fossil fuels for energy is spurring the development of many new technologies to help minimise their environmental impact. Much of this research is focused on clean coal and petroleum technologies and greater energy efficiency. As these technologies emerge, modern lifestyles will become more compatible with a clean environment.