Effects of Burning Fossil Fuels

Harmful Effects and Types of Fossil Fuels

Let us understand how fossil fuels are formed. Fossil fuel is formed when any of a class of hydrocarbon containing materials of biological origin occurring within the Earth’s crust that can be used as a source of energy.

There are three primary varieties of fossil fuels:

  • • Petroleum,

  • • Natural gas, and

  • • Coal;

  • let us understand the varieties of fossil fuel:

    1. Petroleum:

    Petroleum also called oil, is the most often used and discussed form of fossil fuel around the globe till today. Today, we think of oil as the fuel that we pump into our cars at pump stations, but refined gasoline is not what comes out of the ground at oil wells.

    On the contrary, crude oil is that the form of petroleum that happens naturally. Petroleum consists of carbon and hydrogen that has been gone through an organic phase in single-cell plants or being animals, like blue-green algae or animal.

    The preserved remains of such organisms become petroleum through a process called Diagenesis. Petroleum is classified by its predominant hydrocarbon. There are 5 grades of crude oil based on specific gravity ranging from heavy to light, the latter being the most desirable.

    2. Natural Gas:

    Natural Gas is made up of methane and is incredibly lightweight. While petroleum is generated solely inside the oil window. Natural gas migrates up from deep below Earth’s surface and accumulates in traps, along with petroleum. They have three main properties: color, odor, and flammability. Methane is colorless, odorless and highly flammable.

    3. Coal:

    Here natural gas is a gas, and Petroleum is a liquid, coal is, of course, a solid. Coal looks like chunks of midnight black rock, which are harvested from the earth by workers in mining operations. During surface or underground mining, coal can be recovered. For surface mining, the process is straight forward. Coal is poised of 5 diverse elements: Oxygen, Carbon, Nitrogen, Hydrogen, and Sulfur, with the distributions of those 5 elements varying depending on the piece of coal. In any case, coal today is used for everything from producing steel and cement to keep the lights at homes and Industries.

    *Hydrocarbon – Any category of organic chemical compounds composed solely of Carbon (C) and hydrogen gas (H).

    *Methane: A chemical compound with the chemical formula CH4.

    The effects of burning fossil fuel:

    Burning fossil fuel can affect the environment, air quality, climatic conditions, and human health. Every recent study by the scientist states that the burning of the fossil fuels such as coal, oil, gas for energy is the main contributor to the rapidly rising level of carbon dioxide that is driving the climate change. As the burning of fossil fuel increases, the climatic condition will change and increase the temperature. Fossil fuel extraction, processing, and burning can have negative health effects on the communities. 

  • 1. Global Warming Pollution

  • Fossil fuel and global warming are closely associated with each other. The presence of high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere results in an increase in the amount of heat and temperature on the surface of the Earth. This is because carbon dioxide traps heat obtained from sunlight and it does not dissipate out of the atmosphere, this process known as the greenhouse effect. Since fossil fuels are hydrocarbons (made from hydrogen and carbon), burning fossil fuels releases an enormous amount of carbon dioxide into the air. When there's a major rise in the percentage of carbon dioxide in the air, the amount of heat captured by the carbon dioxide gas also increases. This, in turn, results in an overall rise in the surface temperature of the earth, that is additionally referred to as global warming.

    2. Higher rise in the sea level

    The rise in the sea level can adversely affect the climate of the earth. We will witness a drastic change in the weather conditions in various parts of the world. The glaciers of the Earth will melt at a much faster rate. As a result of this, the areas which are located near the water bodies like, the coastal regions and the banks of the river are likely to get submerged under water.

    Lots of islands, deltas, thickly inhabited cities will get enclosed by water. Droughts and floods can occur more frequently in several inland areas that have extreme weather. The cities that are situated near the sea would also suffer the consequences.

    3.Other Forms of Air Pollution

    We also cause air pollution indirectly, like when we buy goods and services that make use of energy in their manufacture and delivery. Most of this air pollution we tend to cause results from the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, natural gas, and gasoline to produce electricity and power for our vehicles. Fossil fuels emit more than simply carbon dioxide when burned. Due to the burning of Fossil fuels, many harmful pollutants are formed such as Nitrogen Oxides (NOx), Carbon Monoxide (CO), Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), Particulate Matter, Lead, Mercury and Sulfur dioxide (SO2). Coal-fired power plants singlehandedly generate 42 percent of dangerous mercury emissions and the vast majority of the particulate matter in our air. In the meantime, fossil fuel powered trucks, cars, and boats are the main suppliers of toxic carbon monoxide gas and nitrogen oxide, which produces smog (and metabolism illnesses) on hot days. Fuels such as coal, petroleum release unburnt particles in the environment. The particles result in air pollution and cause respiratory diseases such as respiratory illness, lung damage, ozone (smog) effect, reduces the ability of blood to bring oxygen to the blood cells and tissues, liver and kidney etc. 

  • 1. Toxic gases causing Acid Rain

  • The burning of fossil fuel gives out harmful compounds like sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. These substances will rise terribly high into the atmosphere, wherever they combine and react with water, oxygen, and other chemicals to form a lot of acidic pollutants, called air pollution. Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides dissolve very easily with water and are carried very far by the wind. As a result, both the compounds can travel long distances where they become part of the rain, sleet, snow, and fog that we experience on certain days. 
    Human activities are the main reason for acid rain. Over the past few decades, we humans have released so many different chemicals into the air that they have changed the mix of gases in the atmosphere. Huge Power plants release the majority of sulfur dioxide and much of the nitrogen oxides when they burn fossil fuels, such as coal, to produce electricity. In addition to this, the gases from cars, trucks, and buses release nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide into the air. These pollutants cause acid rain by the wind.

  • 2. Oil Spills

  • Crude oil or petroleum is often transported from one place to another by tankers and ships. Any leakage in these tankers causes oil spills. This issue can lead to water pollution and poses a problem for marine lives. Thus, we can see that the issue of fossil fuels, global warming, and climate change are all interwoven with each other. We all have to play a vital role in controlling their harmful effects. If we take some small measures from our side, then we can save our mother earth from any major disaster. We should reduce energy consumption in our homes when not in use and use our vehicles only for travelling short distances. We also have to stop cutting trees and plant more saplings regularly. This is because plants use up the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and thus check its level from rising and protects the environment. Our activities have put the earth at risk, and it's now our responsibility to reverse the trend.

  • 3. Ocean Acidification

  • When we burn crude oil, coal, and gas, we change the ocean’s basic chemistry, making it more acidic. Our seas absorb as much as a quarter of all carbon emitted. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution and our fossil fuel burning ways, the ocean has become 30 percent more acidic. As the acidity in our waters increases, the amount of calcium carbonate which is a substance used by oysters, lobsters, and countless other marine organisms to form shells will go down. The growth rate of the species when reduced weakens the shells and imperils entire food chains.

    When we start analyzing the effects caused by burning fossil fuels, we can conclude that all the problems are interlinked. We have to reduce the burning of fuels and save our environment.