Positives & negatives of fossil fuels

Written by dirk huds | 13/05/2017
Positives & negatives of fossil fuels
In 2009 fossil fuels supplied over 90 percent of the world’s commercial energy use. (Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Fossil fuels occur naturally and develop from the remains of organic matter. The transformation takes millions of years and fossil fuels are typically found underground. They take the form of oil, gas and coal. There are both pluses and minuses to the use of fossil fuels.

Positive: Access

Fossil fuels are relatively easy to locate. Technological advances such as radar, echolocation and geological sounding have meant that deposits are regularly discovered. Increasing knowledge of geological processes help exploration and production companies pinpoint likely locations, minimising exploratory searches.

Positive: Price

It's relatively cheap to extract and process fossil fuels. This is partly because they have been used as the primary fuels in industrial countries for over a century and technological processes have been refined. But also, once a source of fuel has been located, extraction is reasonably simple, for instance, mining along a coal seam. Power stations to convert the fuel are also cheap compared to other energy processing plants.

Positive: Efficiency

The industrial developments of the late nineteenth century that allowed for the easy extraction and synthesis of fossil fuels and their continued use has created an efficient infrastructure for their processing. This means that systems of transportation, conversion into usable power and distribution to commercial and residential users are well developed. This makes for an efficient, and therefore cheaper, system of energy provision that non-conventional fuel sources.

Negative: Global warming

The burning of fossil fuels -- a necessary part of converting them into energy -- releases gases that are harmful to the ozone layer. The ozone layer protects the Earth from the damaging effects of the sun. As the burning of fossil fuels deplete the ozone layer, the sun’s effect is increased, leading to higher temperatures and rising sea levels as ice caps melt and more powerful weather events occur.

Negative: Environmental damage

The side effects of burning fossil fuels includes the emission of carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide. These chemicals can cause acid rain, which damages environmental ecosystems. The extraction of fossil fuels can also undermine geological formations, leading to earthquakes. Furthermore, leaks from the extraction process, particularly in the case of oil, can cause damage to wildlife and natural environments.

Negative: Depletion

The continued industrialisation of the world means that demand for fossil fuels keeps growing. As a result, supplies of oil, coal and gas are being rapidly depleted. Because fossil fuels take millions of years to form, the supplies are essentially finite. Once they are gone, they cannot be replaced in kind. Alternative energy sources will have to be found.

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