Fossil fuels can be in the form of solids (coal), liquids (petroleum) or gas (natural gas, methane). They are believed to be fossilized remains of dead animals and plants which have been exposed to heat and a high degree of pressure over many millions of years. A 2005 study claimed that fossil fuels were involved in as much as 86% of the primary global energy production.
The problem with fossil fuels is that they are being used at a rate which is far higher than their rate of formation. So far, we have not come up with any direct solution to this dilemma although there are other alternatives, such as switching to ‘renewables’. Another concern is the impact of usage on the environment. Burning fossil fuels generates around 21.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide annually. Again, this is a rate that nature just can’t keep up with. Plants and trees can only absorb about half of that amount, which means there is a net increase in the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, each year. Being a principle greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide fuels global warming, which in turn will cause melting of ice in the Polar Regions, rising of the sea level and in general, a drop in biodiversity.
Coal is found in almost all of the American states and especially in Europe where they factored in the Industrial Revolution. It has to be mined out of the ground using various methods. Usually, the many layers of soil above the coal are replaced after the coal is extracted. It can be shipped by trains and boats or transported as slurry (mixture of water and coal) through pipelines. Coal is very unpopular with conservationists because when burning it releases toxic gases and minute carbon particles.
Natural gas is lighter than air and mostly consists of methane, a highly flammable compound. It originally has no smell but in order to make its presence detectable, a chemical is added during production. Oil was formed more than 300 million years ago. Along with natural gas, they are formed underground between folds of rock and within rocks as well. This means that drilling is inevitable if you want to bring it out of the earth. The oil is then pumped by oil rigs and carried through pipelines to refineries. Crude oil is heated to split it into different types of raw material, for the production of diesel, gasoline, jet fuel and home heating oil, as well as fertilizers, clothing material, toothbrushes and plastic bottles. Kern County, California is one of the largest production areas in the US. Alaska also produces a significant amount of oil. The rest is imported from Arabian countries and, to a lesser extent, from African countries.