Understanding Fossil Fuels Resources

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We’ve all heard of fossil fuels, “the product of decayed dinosaurs” “the culprits responsible for the greenhouse effect and global warming”, but how much do we really know about its origins and how it came to have such a central role in our daily lives. In this essay, I endeavor to deepen your knowledge of the discovery and rise in population of these resources.

So, what exactly are fossil fuels? Well, according to the theory of fossil fuel formation developed my Mikhail Lomonosov, fossil fuels are products of the carboniferous age (which essentially is a period during which there were large areas of swamps, filled with huge trees, ferns, and algae that covered land) from the remains of dead plants and animals which were subjected to extremely high temperatures and pressures. According to Lomonosov, the remains of these living organisms sank to the bottom of various waterbodies such as swamps, lakes, seas and so on millions of years ago and over time they combined with other materials such as clay, mud, and silt. This combination resulted in the formation peat layers over the course of time. This coupled with subsequent sedimentation over these layers of peat resulted in an increased pressure over these dead organisms which allowed for the breakdown of the organic matter into molecules of hydrocarbons and carbons, and thereby fossil fuels.

There are three main types of fossil fuels: Coal, natural gas and oil. Although they were formed under similar conditions their development isn’t exactly the same. Coal, for instance, was formed through the process of coalification which occurs in four stages. In stage one, peat layers are formed, In the second stage, the coal matures into lignite, thirdly, it develops into sub-bituminous and bituminous coal which is the coal most commonly used today in electricity generation. Finally, the bituminous coal then develops into anthracite which basically has the highest carbon content and the fewest impurities. Now, as for oil, oil was presumably formed about 300 million years ago from dead and decomposed diatoms (a major group of microalgae, found in various waterways and soils all over the globe). These dead diatoms were then deposited on the seabed and converted to oil under the pressure of sediments and rocks. Like oil, natural gas was formed from decomposed organic matter (more specifically marine microorganisms) that were deposited over the past 550 million years.

While fossil fuels have been around for millions of years, they are recorded to have first appeared at around 500 B.C when the Chinese began using fossil fuels for domestic purposes. They would construct bamboo “pipelines” to transport gas that seeped to the surface and use it to boil sea water to make it drinkable. In 1000 B.C., natural gas which was seeping through the earth and creating a flame was used by the Oracle at Delphi, on Mount Parnassus in Greece, to convince people that she was getting visions from God. Around 5000 to 6000 years ago, the ancient Sumerians, Babylonians and Egyptians used oil for waterproofing their boats, lubricating their chariot wheels, as adhesives and even as an ingredient in mummification.

Today rather than waiting on these materials to surface naturally, we gain access to fossil fuels by: mining and drilling. Mining is used to extract solid fossil fuels, such as coal, by digging, scraping, and exposing the buried resources while Drilling methods help in the extraction of liquid or gaseous fossil fuels that can be forced to flow to the surface, such as oil and natural gas. When it comes to extracting coal, There are two basic classes of mining: mining at the Earth’s surface and mining underground. Surface mining is the most popular, however, since it is less expensive, minimize the number of complications in terms of using electricity to aid in extracting the material and for surface mining it’s easier to get access to water.

Overall, it’s safer than mining underground since when mining underground there may be poisonous or explosive gases present in the ground that miners may be exposed to, there is the likelihood of the caves collapsing and so on. Because of its many advantages, surface mining accounts for two thirds of the world’s solid minerals. There are 5 main types of surface mining, these mining categories are: strip mining, open-pit mining, mountaintop removal, dredging and high wall mining but overall, All these methods of surface mining are essentially for removing the waste material above the desired resource. To gain access to oil and natural gas drilling has to be done. One method of extracting it is through hydraulic fracturing (commonly called fracking). This is a process in which a liquid is injected at high pressure into subterranean rocks, in order to force open existing fissures and extract oil or gas. Natural gas tends to be within the rock itself, so the rock must be broken in order to extract it.

Most of these extraction process that occur, of course take place in the Middle East, as you may have guessed. Oil specifically, though it is found all over the world, almost 63% of the natural oil reserves are concentrated in the Middle East Countries. Saudi Arabia alone has more than 260 billion barrels of proven reserves, Iran has 136 billion, Iraq and Kuwait together nearly 120 billion. Combined, Middle Eastern reserves account for about forty percent of the world’s known oil. Around 100 million years ago there was an ancient ocean that girded the equator in the Cretaceous period some 100 million years ago known as the Tethys Ocean. Remnants of this ancient ocean include the Aral, Black, Caspian and Mediterranean Seas. The rivers feeding this ancient ocean saturated it with nutrients, giving rise to massive numbers of microscopic animals that were soon pressure cooked into oil. Eventually, the Tethys ocean receded giving rise to the sandy Middle East that we all know today.

Until the mid 1940s, the U.S. alone produced around 65 percent of the world’s oil until the Middle East is rightfully credited with having the most oil, the U.S. is credited for ushering in by the first successful oil wells drilled in Titusville, Pennsylvania in 1859 (TONY LONG). In the 19th century, petroleum was used to replace whale oil, used in lamps to light people’s homes, however, it was the advent of the motor car at the beginning of the 20th century assured the success of oil. The First World War further stimulated the demand for oil as ships were modified to use oil instead of coal and production of planes and tanks fueled by oil increased.

The rise of natural gas began in Paris (1801), London (1807), and Baltimore (1816) natural gas lit streets. But it was the invention of Bunsen burner, which fine-tuned mixing gas and air, in 1885 that allowed for gas to be used for cooking and heating, kickstarting the trend in natural gas production. In the late 1960s with the introduction of Liquid Natural Gas cooling technologies in Algeria that gas could be shipped around the world, opening up prospects for later production in Qatar and Australia and feeding markets in Europe, China, Japan and Asia. Following these events natural gas production reached 988 billion cubic metres (bcm) in 1970 and more than tripled to 3,551 bcm in 2016, but it wasn’t until the industrial revolution that they really grabbed the world’s attention.

Until the industrial revolution, water was the main source of power. But then in the mid 1700s when improvements were made to the steam engine by Thomas Newcomen and James Watt, the prospects for coal completely shifted since a coal powered steam engine could do the work of dozens of horses, while at the same time being cheaper to operate. Essentially, coal became a reliable source of energy used for large-scale mass production, was used to speed up travel while simultaneously reducing transport costs and boosting international trade as well. These advantages that coal brought to the table along with successive innovations paved the way for the fossil fuel boom that has been going on for almost two centuries now.

Today, fossil fuels have become an aspect of our society which we have come to heavily rely on. According to the International Association of Geophysical Contractors, fossil fuels are found in about 96% of the items we use each day from our deodorant to our eyeglasses. It’s evident that fossil fuels have planted their roots in our lives and have become the world’s dominant energy source, making up 82% of the global energy supply. These energy sources have powered, and continue to power, the industrialization of nations. They have a variety of applications, from electricity production to transport fuel. They are necessary for the production of a variety of common products, such as paints, detergents, plastics, cosmetics, medicines etc.

Cite this paper

Understanding Fossil Fuels Resources. (2021, Jul 21). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/understanding-fossil-fuels-resources/

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