What are Fossil Fuels? A Brief Overview

Did you know that fossil fuels not only come from natural gas? Oil and coal are fossil fuels also, but what’s interesting is that they were all formed from extinct plants and animals that have decayed millions of years ago. Oh! If the dinosaurs really knew how much they meant to us!

These remains are referred to as organic matter and carbon is the element that is found in all organic matter. This is how we determine what the compound is and how old it is. 

What Do Fossil Fuels Do for Us?

Times Square at NightJust look around. This is how we get our electricity, run our cars (cars that use combustion engines, not electric cars), provide power to our planes and keep us warm in the winter. There are some caveats though. One is the impact they have on the environment. Another is that once the fuel is used, you cannot reuse it again. This is known as non-renewable resources, as compared to renewable resources like wind farms and solar energy. 

Crude oil, AKA petroleum or petro is a fossil fuel in liquid form. It is made of hydrocarbons, which is a chemical compound of hydrogen and carbon. 

How is Oil Extracted?

Oil RigWe know now that it is the remains of dinosaurs that is the oil that we use for energy and we know that this oil is found way beneath the earth, so in order to extract it, oil drills must be built over this area.

It is not easy to find where the oil resides. Much testing is conducted first and sometimes found by accident. Remember the Beverly Hillbillies

Finding oil and gas trapped deep underground and drilling a well are very complicated and expensive, but the payoff is well worth it to the oil companies and the landowners (mostly municipalities and countries) where their drilling takes place make a fortune. Just take a look at the Middle-Eastern Gulf states, but closer to home, there is Texas and California, as well as Alaska, but transporting the oil to refineries and on to international distributers were restricted until recently when the President opened up the pipelines which helped advance the US economy and make America energy independent. 

How are oil and gas transported?

The oil drilling takes place on land and in the ocean. Once extracted, it is sent to the oil refineries since this fossil fuel contains lots of other compounds that need to be extracted so that the oil is pure. Large oil tanker ships as well as pipelines carry this oil to their respective refineries. 

Interestingly, there are more than 190,000 miles of pipelines in the continental United States and Alaska. They connect to refineries and chemical plants which are then delivered to terminals where the refined product is trucked to consumers. 

What is Shale Gas?

Shale gas is natural gas that is found underground in shale rock. Fracking is the process used to extract shale gas. Profound openings are bored down into the shale rock. The gas is then siphoned into the boring gaps made by the drills which created cracks in the stone, empowering the gas to flow through the breaks into wells. From that point, it is funneled away for consumer use. 

What About the Environment?

Fossil fuels are known to be major pollutants.

Smokestack showing air pollution
Photo by Marcin Jozwiak on Unsplash

There are ongoing, many times contentious debates about which is currently more important, advancing the US economy or diminishing the oil transport and production so that the oceans and air can become cleaner. 

During the course of debates that are leading up to the US elections, Donald Trump believes that strengthening the US economy and energy independence is most important now, as well as being able to meet the growing energy needs across the world,  but Joe Biden feels that it is too dangerous to not take into account what effect the fossil fuel production and fracking is doing to this current environment and the dangers it could possibly have in future years. 

 

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