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For more information, please see full course syllabus of AP Environmental Science
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Fossil Fuels

  • Fossil fuels are from the buried remnants of previously existing life forms within sedimentary rock. They get converted via chemical reactions into crude oil, natural gas, coal, oil shale, or tar sands
  • Fossil fuels provide 90% of the fuel used worldwide, and globally oil and natural gas make up 70-80% of primary energy usage
  • Crude oil (petroleum) is mainly derived from young material buried in depositional basins, usually near young, active plate boundaries. Source rock, reservoir rock, trap, and cap rock participate in making oil reserves
  • Primary production and enhanced recovery are used to withdraw from wells. Eventually, a proven oil reserve can result. There are different estimates as to how long current proven oil reserves will last and how much more is left out there to extract at a profit
  • Current worldwide use of oil is at 85 million barrels per day, and for every 3 we use we find 1 more
  • Natural gas has been utilized more recently compared to crude oil, and it is considered cleaner than petroleum with less pollution when it’s burned
  • Coal-bed methane arises from the methane that results when coal is formed under ground. Utah and Wyoming are thought to have the largest coal-bed methane reserves in the U.S.
  • Black shale natural gas is also in great supply under the Appalachian mountains, but recovery is costly and controversial (i.e. hydrofracturing, or fracking)
  • Methane hydrates exist beneath the ocean floor and they are like an ice-like methane supply in a frozen water container, and the potential for energy supply from this resource is projected to be huge!
  • When extracting oil from underground, there are some negatives: use of land for wells/pipes/storage, pollution of surface waters, accidental release of massive amounts of oil, accidental release of air pollutants, release of drilling muds, land subsidence, and loss/disruption of ecosystems
  • Fractional distillation has some controversy because of accidental spills/leaks, and the environmental costs of creating fine oil
  • Drilling in the ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) has its pros and cons
  • Coal arises from partially decomposed vegetation that has been buried in sediment. The annual worldwide consumption is approximately 7 billion metric tons
  • Depending on the energy supplied from the coal, it is classified as anthracite, bituminous, sub-bituminous, or lignite. Low-sulfur content in the coal is preferred (due to environmental hazards from burning high-sulfur coal)
  • Methods of coal mining can be controversial: strip mining, mountaintop removal, and underground coal mining all have their risks and huge potential for environmental damage and degradation of ecosystems (acid mind drainage, land subsidence, coal fires, etc)
  • The future of coal is not entirely clear, but there have been efforts to contain it via governmental regulations and allowance trading
  • Oil shale and tar sands play a minor role today in the extraction of fossil fuels, but they may play a bigger role in the future if extraction can be done more efficiently

Fossil Fuels

Lecture Slides are screen-captured images of important points in the lecture. Students can download and print out these lecture slide images to do practice problems as well as take notes while watching the lecture.

  1. Intro
    • Fossil Fuel Basics
    • Fossil Fuel Usage Worldwide
    • Crude Oil and Natural Gas Origins
    • Petroleum Production
    • Petroleum Use Now and Later
    • Natural Gas
    • Coal-Bed Methane
    • Black Shale (Tight) Natural Gas
    • Methane Hydrates
    • Oil's Effect on the Environment
    • Refining, Delivering and Using Oil
    • ANWR: Should We Drill?
    • Coal Introduction
    • Coal Mining
    • Mountaintop Removal of Coal
    • Underground Mining of Coal
    • The Future of Coal
    • Oil Shale and Tar Sands
    • Intro 0:00
    • Fossil Fuel Basics 0:04
      • Matter Is Not Completely Oxidized
      • Converted Via Chemical Reactions
      • In a Sense, It's Stored Solar Energy
    • Fossil Fuel Usage Worldwide 2:33
      • 90% of the Energy Used Worldwide
      • World Energy Consumption Grew
      • Oil and Natural Gas Make up 70-80% of Primary Energy Usage
      • China and Coal
    • Crude Oil and Natural Gas Origins 5:09
      • Petroleum
      • Elevated Temperature and Pressure Facilitate the Production of the Oil or Natural Gas
      • Source Rock vs. Reservoir Rock
      • Upward Migration
    • Petroleum Production 9:09
      • Primary Production
      • Enhanced Recovery
      • Proven Oil Reserves
      • Overall Oil Resource Estimates
    • Petroleum Use Now and Later 12:06
      • Scientists Suggest That Proven Oil Reserves Will Only Last Several More Decades
      • Potential Crisis?
    • Natural Gas 13:59
      • Search for This Resource Has Not Been Around As Long As Oil
      • Worldwide Estimate
    • Coal-Bed Methane 18:32
      • Formation of Coal
      • Utah and Wyoming Have the Largest Known Coal-Bed Methane Sources in the U.S.
      • Benefits and Concerns
    • Black Shale (Tight) Natural Gas 22:47
      • Black Devonian Shale
      • Recovery is Costly and Controversial
    • Methane Hydrates 25:14
      • Exist Beneath Ocean Floor
      • White, Ice-like Compound of CH4 in a Frozen Water
      • Giant Craters from Methane Eruptions
      • Potentially Contain 2x the Energy of All the Other Fossil Fuels on Earth
    • Oil's Effect on the Environment 27:34
      • Use of Land for Wells, Pipes, Storage
      • Pollution of Surface Waters and Groundwater
      • Accidental Release of Mass Amounts of Oil
      • Accidental Release of Air Pollutants
      • Release of Drilling Muds
      • Land Subsidence
      • Loss/ Disruption of Ecosystems
    • Refining, Delivering and Using Oil 29:57
      • Fractional Distillation Oil Has Its Issues
      • Creating 'Fine Oil' Can Have its Environmental Costs
      • Delivery on Land Via Pipelines or in Ocean by Tankers
    • ANWR: Should We Drill? 32:51
      • Pros of Drilling
      • Cons of Drilling
    • Coal Introduction 37:39
      • Partial Decomposed Vegetation, Buried in Sediment, Can Eventually Become Coal
      • Classified As
      • Low Sulfur Content is Important
    • Coal Mining 44:42
      • Thousands of Square Kilometer in the U.S. Disturbed
      • Strip Mining
    • Mountaintop Removal of Coal 48:29
      • Growing Concern Over This Practice
      • Mountaintops are Destroyed, Valleys are Filled with Waste Rock and Mine Waste, Flood Hazard Increased
      • October 2000, SE Kentucky
      • Proponents Emphasize $ Value to Local Economy
      • Experts Claim That Reclamation Success Stories are Few and Far Between
    • Underground Mining of Coal 51:20
      • Accounts for About 40% of the Coal Mined in the U.S.
      • Dangers to Miners Are Well Documented
      • Environmental Issues
      • Transporting Coal
    • The Future of Coal 53:51
      • Burning Coal Produces Almost 50% of Electricity Used and 25% of Total Energy Consumed in U.S.
      • Recent Legislation Has Created a Demand For the Following
    • Oil Shale and Tar Sands 58:04
      • Oil Shale
      • Tar Sands