The Process of Fossil Energy

To understand fossil energy you would need to go back about 300 million years ago. This was the Carboniferous Period and occurred before the first dinosaurs roamed.

There are three types of fossil fuels – oil, coal and natural gas. These fossil fuels were made of decaying plants and animals where the decomposing materials were buried under layers and layers of earth.

This may have been due to huge natural events where the surface of the earth was turned inward with huge earthquakes that toppled mountains. There are many lines of conjecture but what we do know is that fossil fuels are not among the energy resources that are renewable.

Field of Coal & Oil

The earth was blessed with many fields of coal and oil and there is still much natural gas that remains untapped today. Coal may be the first fossil fuel to disappear.

In previous generations, anthracite coal was the highest priced coal and much in demand. Most homes were powered by coal burning furnaces.

The original steam engines of trains carried coalmen who spend endless hours shoveling coal into a furnace on the engine at the front of the train.

The coal heated water and made steam which was used to pull the long series of cars. Just fifty years ago it was common to see a train where car after car was filled to the brim with black coal. That site is not the norm today.

However, coal is the main fuel power plants use to product electricity. Coal is relatively close to the earth's surface which makes mining coal less expensive than drilling for oil.

Coal is still transported by rail to power plants across the country where it is burned to create steam. The steam turns huge turbines which produce electrical power.

Though oil and natural gas formed mainly on ocean floors, coal was the result of a material known as peat which was subjected to high pressure and heat and compressed into what we call coal today. In some areas of the world, peat is harvested and used as fuel.

Coal is still being mined but the hard, black anthracite coal is seldom found and has been replace with bituminous which is softer and burns faster. Lignite coal was the cheapest fuel available but soon it may be the only coal left in mines.


Thick oil (petroleum) is found deep within the earth. In some areas of the world, fields of oil wells are a common site. Deep wells are drilled down into oil fields and the fossil fuel is then pumped to the surface to be used to produce power.

Oil must be processed as the oil pump from wells is known as crude oil. The quality and price of oil is based on the type of crude an oil well produces.

Oil and gas were trapped beneath layers of rocks and mainly formed on sea floors where plankton was plentiful.

Silt and sediment accumulated over the surface covering dead plant and animal life and under pressure turned into rock over millions of years.

Some of the rock was porous while caps forming over the sediment hardened and trapped organic matter under the surface of the ground or sea floor.

The rock was organically rich and high heat from the core of the earth combined with the pressure of the earth itself created fossil fuels.

Refineries process oil into usable fuel such as gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. The oil is also burned in power plants to produce electricity to power our lights, heat and air conditioning.

More Interesting Reading

We are Dependening on Oil

For years, we have been increasingly dependent on oil as a major source of power. Only recently have we realized how little oil is left for us to use.

Increasing populations and emerging nations have led to increasing demands for more oil to be pumped and refined by oil producing nations.

The value of oil is such that wars have been found and political policies made that directly relate to keeping the oil flowing.

Natural gas is lighter than air and consists of methane gas which is composed of hydrogen and carbon atoms. Methane is highly flammable and thus explosive and is pumped just as oil is.

Wells tap into huge reservoirs of gas beneath the earth's surface and the gas is then shipped through pipelines. One problem with natural gas is that it is odorless in its natural state.

This is dangerous when the gas is used as you cannot see or smell a potential lethal gas leak.

For this reason, a chemical is added to natural gas and it is the chemical you smell when you turn on the burner or a stove or when there is natural gas leak in a pipeline.