The three primary fossil fuels are gas, coal and oil, all non-renewable sources of energy. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, we use fossil fuels to meet over 85 per cent of our energy needs and we get them from the Earth itself: coal is generally formed in lowland, swampy environments from vegetation remains; gas and oil, however, are found in marine settings and come from the remains of ancient organisms contained in the sea bed.
Fossil Fuel Dependency
We need energy to power most parts of our lives: at work, at home and out and about. Fossil fuels provide almost two-thirds of the electricity America needs to function, as well as almost all the fuels necessary for transportation. Fossil fuels have conveniently serviced the modern world through being easily combustible, inexpensive to produce and simple to transport. We now know, however, that not only are these natural resources running out, they're harmful to the environment. In 2011, scientists and political leaders are committed to developing new sustainable sources of energy to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.
Evidence exists to show that coal was used as long ago as the second millennium B.C., but it wasn't until the Industrial Revolution began in 1820 that coal became a central source of energy. The coal-burning steam engine was a crucial invention and as machines became bigger and faster, so coal production continued to advance. Coke was a main by-product of coal and replaced charcoal as the best way to make steel. By the early 20th century, coal was the primary source of energy for most areas of life from fuelling factories and homes to running everyday transportation. Today, according to the American Coal Association, more than half of the nation's electricity still comes from coal and coal is used to make other essential commodities including cement, paper, ceramics and chemicals.
Natural gas is thought to originate in the parts of plant material that didn't become coal and the American Gas Association reports that more than 23 trillion cubic feet of natural gas was used in America in 2008. Most of the natural gas produced is used by only about six industries manufacturing glass, metal, aluminium, chemicals, petroleum and wood products. Overtaking coal in 2011 as America's most popular fossil fuel, it's clean, efficient and reliable and more than 80 per cent of the natural gas produced by the U.S. is used domestically.
Well-known anecdotally as "liquid gold" or "black gold," oil has long been a valuable natural resource and is the basis of petroleum products including gasoline, kerosene, gas oils and lubricating oils. The primary use for oil is in running the world's transportation methods, from heavy farm vehicles to the sleekest limousines. The U.S. consumes 18.8 million barrels of oil every day, as of March 2011, and produces almost half of that amount itself, keeping its position as the third biggest producer of oil behind Russia and Saudi Arabia. As well as meeting transportation needs, oil is used to make plastics and the same petrochemicals are used to make plastic bottles and polyester.
- U.S. Department of Energy: Fossil Fuels
- Discovering Fossils: What are Fossil Fuels: How Do They Form?
- University of Michigan: Fossil Fuels: by Osman Chugtai and David Shannon
- Ecomall.com: 20 Things You Can Do To Conserve Energy
- Science Clarified: The Development of Energy: A Brief History of Power Use, Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Energy
- American Coal Foundation: About Coal: Coal's Past, Present and Future