There Are 3 Main Fossil Fuels We Depend on!

The term "fossil fuels" is frequently part of the discussion and it's important to realize that the fossil fuels we consume today are limited in supply.

The main fossil fuels we consume today are petroleum (oil), coal and natural gas. These have been referred to as natural resources for many years and often treated as if they will always be available for us to use.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Today when we talk about natural resources it's usually about renewable natural resources such as solar and wind energy, hydropower and biomass.

Often Dismissed

The fossil fuels are often dismissed today by consumers who believe clean energy is necessary for the country as we move forward.

Oil and coal are often dismissed as fuels that cause pollution and add to the greenhouse effect on our atmosphere. We should remember that fossil fuels we have used for hundreds of years allowed us to develop the technology we have today.

From peat bogs to coal mines, mining is a dirty and dangerous job. Tunnels blasted deep into the earth revealed rich veins of dark coal that could be extracted and used to heat homes, run steam engines, and make electrical power. Most of the electricity we use today comes from burning coal.

Wars have been fought over oil fields and political partnerships formed to protect the flow of oil from one country to another.

Without oil we would not be driving cars today. Once referred to as Black Gold, the world's reservoirs of oil are being depleted.

Growing populations and increased manufacturing and travel have led to an increasing use of oil worldwide. Some experts believe we will use up most of the oil in the earth within the next fifty years or so.

The only fossil fuel that is perhaps under utilized today is natural gas. This is methane gas and requires drilling similar to that used with oil.

Huge pipelines move natural gas from one area to another. Building pipelines is expensive and it is one reason natural gas has not been used to its fullest potential in the U.S.

This is the cleanest burning fossil fuel. In its natural state, gas has no odor and it is invisible in the air.

That makes it dangers as a gas leak could not be detected so during the refining process a chemical is added that gives natural gas the rotten egg odor we are accustomed to.

This smell is distinctive so that smelling it will immediately alert you to a gas leak. Gas is a volatile fossil fuel and the fear of explosions from gas leaks is still common for some consumers.

How Fossil Fuels are Formed

Oil, coal and natural gas were formed over millions of years as the earth covered decaying vegetation and animal matter with layers of silt and rock.

The pressure exerted by surrounding rocks and the heat from the core of the earth yielded oil, coal and natural gas.

These fossil fuels were formed in the earth long before dinosaurs were found and for millions of years the precious fuels were part of the earth itself.

As coal and, later, oil and natural gas were used to power machines, heat homes and provide energy for transportation we mined the precious fuels in ever increasing amounts.

In just a few hundred years, humans have used up most of the fossil fuels created by the earth eons ago.

Predictions and Warnings

The need for clean air and water combined with concerns about global warming and climate change has led to interest in renewable energy.

Though solar and wind energy are growing today they are not sufficient to replace the oil, coal and natural gas we use. In the oil industry, peak periods are being scrutinized.

The peak of an oil field is the point at which the maximum production has been reached and the well is beginning to decline in productivity.

Predicting peak production points is a highly specialized field that combines science and engineering. Other calculations try to predict when a coal mine will be "mined out".

Already, the hard, black anthracite coal is almost gone. This was the most expensive coal where the high density of the coal made it efficient and slow burning.

Today, most coal mined is bituminous which is slightly less compacted. Lignite coal is the lowest grade and is fast burning. Lignite also produces more pollution when burned.

Natural gas resources are still quite abundant but the cost of building new pipelines for a fossil fuel that will eventually disappear has met opposition.

States and cities are wary of a natural gas pipeline running through their land as the chance of a leak or massive explosion are greatly feared.


The main fossil fuels are coal, oil and natural gas. We could not survive today without using these fuels and yet we will deplete the earth's supply at some point in the future.

It has become clear that the way forward is to find renewable resources of energy that can replace use of fossil fuels. The finite nature of coal, oil and gas is driving the search for cleaner fuels.

From nuclear power to biomass, the push is on to developed way to create electricity and product power in the future when we can no longer depend on previous fossil fuels.