Fossil fuel facts, trivia and statistics

July 14th, 2009
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Did you know the age of the organisms that were the primary ingredients for the fossil fuels we use today can be as much as 650 million years old or that we actually eat fossil fuel?

Fueling up a car, switching on a light or burning a lump of coal are pretty easy tasks for us to do as end consumers. As individuals, we tend to not think about where these resources come from and it can be difficult for us to fully grasp what it takes to generate these products; how much we collectively use and the effects of that use on the environment. 

Here’s some fascinating (and disturbing) fast facts, trivia and statistics about the most commonly used fossil fuels, oil, natural gas and coal:

Oil trivia and statistics

  • Oil doesn’t come from dead dinosaurs, but from the remains of single celled creatures, known as diatoms. Source
  • A litre (around a quart) of gasoline is the result of about 20 metric tonnes of ancient organic material deposited on the ocean floor. Source
  • Crude oil provides more than fuel, it’s the basis of many plastics and chemicals used in shampoos and other personal care products.
  • There have been a total of 14 known marine oil spills consisting of over 100,000 tonnes. One tonne of crude oil is roughly equal to 308 US gallons. Source
  • Oil consumption in the United States and Canada equals almost 3 gallons per day per capita. Oil consumption in the rest of the OECD equals 1.4 gallons per day per capita. Outside of the OECD, oil consumption equals 0.2 gallons per day per capita. Source
  • The level of petroleum products making their way into the ocean is estimated at 0.25% of world oil production – around 6 million tons per year. Source
  • Crude oil demand on the international market is estimated to reach 87.70 million barrels per day in 2009. In 1996, it was 71.7 million barrels per day and consumption is projected to be 100 million barrels per day by the year 2020.  Source
  • As oil becomes harder to access easily (see Peak Oil), other resources are being tapped; such as Canada’s tar sands. Between two to 4 barrels of water are needed to produce one barrel of crude sourced from tar sands. Source
  • In the Exxon Valdez oil spill, around 11 million gallons or 257,000 barrels or 38,800 metric tonnes was involved,  roughly equivalent to 125 Olympic-sized swimming pools. It affected over 1300 miles of coastline and is estimated to have killed  250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles, up to 22 killer whales, and billions of salmon and herring eggs. Source
  • One gallon of motor oil can contaminate one million gallons of water. Source
  • One quart of motor oil can create an oil slick two acres in size. Source 

Coal facts

  • Coal comes from plants that lived many millions of years ago.
  • Coal is the biggest contributor to the human-made increase of carbon dioxide in the air. Source
  • Toxic by-products of coal refining and combustion include mercury, uranium, thorium, arsenic, and other heavy metals.
  • Between 7 and 30 percent of coal consists of non-combustible material that just has to be eventually disposed of. Source
  • Coal mining brought in about USD $8 billion to the coffers of Appalachian states (USA), but the costs of the shorter life-spans associated with coal mining operations were nearly $17 billion to $84.5 billion. Source
  • Up to 20% more coal is needed to “create” low emissions coal, also known as “clean coal”. That coal will not magically appear, it needs to be mined. Mining coal is not only generally environmentally destructive process, it is a carbon emissions intensive exercise in itself.
  • Each person in the United States uses 3.8 tons of coal each year. Source 
  • Coal provides over 23% of global primary energy needs and generates around 39% of the world’s electricity. Almost 70% of total global steel production is dependent on coal. Source
  • Carbon dioxide emissions from U.S. coal-fired electricity generation are greater than emissions from all the cars and trucks in America. Source
  • A typical 500-megawatt coal-fired power plant draws about 2.2 billion gallons of water each year from nearby water bodies, such as lakes, rivers, or oceans. Source
  • A typical coal plant requires 14,600 railroad cars to supply 1.4 million tons of coal in a year. Source

As for eating fossil fuel; natural gas has a direct connection to our food in that it’s extensively used to create nitrogen based fertilizer. Source

Our reliance on fossil fuels pervades all aspects of our lives to the point we’ll invade countries and kill innocent people to feed our energy addiction. Our planet has had enough and is fighting back through phenomenon such as climate change.

Energy efficiency in conjunction with renewable energy is the answer and while some may say renewable energy is too expensive, what’s often not take into account is the heavy subsidization of fossil fuels by governments, which is paid for indirectly by taxation. It’s high time to reroute more of those tax dollars to a clean energy future!

Michael Bloch
Green Living
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