DOE - Fossil Energy: How Fossil Fuels Were Formed


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You are here:  Educational Activities > Energy
Lessons > Coal-Introduction > /Fossil Fuel Formation/

Fossil Energy Study Guides*How Fossil Fuels were Formed*

Contrary to what many people believe, fossil fuels are not the remains of
dead dinosaurs. In fact, most of the fossil fuels we find today were formed
millions of years before the first dinosaurs.

  *Formation of Coal

- Primordial Swamp-
Ancient Seas-
Coal Seam-

- Fossil fuels were formed from plants and animals that lived 300 million
years ago in primordial swamps and oceans (top). Over time the plants and
animals died and decomposed under tons of rock and ancient seas (middle).
Eventually, many of the seas receded and left dry land with fossil fuels
like coal buried underneath it (bottom).
Ten feet of prehistoric plant debris was needed to make one foot of coal.


Fossil fuels, however, were once alive!

They were formed from prehistoric plants and animals that lived hundreds of
millions of years ago.

Think about what the Earth must have looked like 300 million years or so
ago. The land masses we live on today were just forming. There were swamps
and bogs everywhere. The climate was warmer. Ancient trees and plants grew
everywhere. Strange looking animals walked


Fossil fuel - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


** Fossil fuel **

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"Oil and gas" redirects here. For other uses, see Oil and gas
Coal, one of the fossil fuels.

*Fossil fuels* are fuels formed by natural processes such as anaerobic
decomposition of buried dead organisms. The age of the organisms and their
resulting fossil fuels is typically millions of years, and sometimes
exceeds 650 million years.^[1] Fossil fuels contain high percentages of
carbon and include coal, petroleum, and natural gas.^[2] They range from
volatile materials with low carbon:hydrogen ratios like methane, to liquid
petroleum to nonvolatile materials composed of almost pure carbon, like
anthracite coal. Methane can be found in hydrocarbon fields, alone,
associated with oil, or in the form of methane clathrates. The theory that
fossil fuels formed from the fossilized remains of dead plants ^[3] by
exposure to heat and pressure in the Earth's crust over millions of
years^[4] (see biogenic theory) was first introduced by Georg Agricola in
1556 and later by Mikhail Lomonosov in the 18th century.

It was estimated by the Energy Information Administration that in 2007
primary sources of energy consisted of petroleum 36.0%, coal 27.4%, natural
gas 23.0%, amounting to an 86.4% share for fossil fuels in primary energy
consumption in the world.^[5] Non-fossil sources in 2006 included
hydroelectric 6.3%, nuclear 8.5%, and others (geothermal, solar, tidal,
wind, wood, waste) amounting to 0.9%.^[6] World energy consumption was
growing about 2.3% per year.

Fossil fuels are non-renewable resources because they take millions of


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