What Are the Pros and Cons of Fossil Fuels?

Petroleum is an example of a fossil fuel.
Petroleum is an example of a fossil fuel.

Fossil fuels are a source of energy that power different sectors around the world. Currently, there are debates on whether the use of fossil fuel is safe. Should we come up with other sources of fuel such as renewable energy and nuclear energy and do away with fossil fuels?

The term "fossil fuel" refers to fuel that formed naturally over millions of years from anaerobic decomposition of animal and plant matter. The fuel contains high levels of carbon and other gases. Fossil fuels include naturals gas, petroleum, and coal whose pros and cons are discussed in the article below.

Pro: plentiful

Fossil fuels are available in abundance in all continents across the globe. Currently, the fuels are able to satisfy the world demand meaning that they are bountiful and accessible. Statistics indicate that global reserves stand at 1,139 billion tonnes for coal, 187 trillion cubic meters of natural gas, and about 1,707 billion barrels of untouched crude oil. In as much as there is fear of depletion of some wells, there is hope that new wells of fossil fuel will be discovered. With improved technology and better drilling machines, the exploration sector is sure to strike new better-endowed wells. In 2013 just when there was fear of depletion, over 233 billion barrels were discovered in Australia. Recently, over 1.7 billion barrels were successfully discovered in Kenya by Tullow company. Bahrain and other Middle East countries recently discovered new wells with bigger fossil deposits. Exploration activities are going on across the world and more so in desert countries in Africa in a bid to discover fossil fuel.

Con: polluting

Pollution is inevitable through the process of exploring, refining, and consumption of fossil fuel. During combustion, fossil fuels create an acidic environment which may interfere with the natural ecosystem. The effect is more extreme if the process of combustion occurs in the absence of condensing technology. Environmental degradation due to pollution affects flora, fauna, and the planet at large. The carbon dioxide released when fossil fuels burn is linked to global warming. Human errors such as oil spills have occurred in several instances when the product is in transit. The resulting pollution has an adverse effect on the environment. The occurrence leads to chocking, drying up, and even death of organisms in our ecosystem. Human error can also occur in the handling of natural gas, leading to pollution of the air.

Pro: huge generation potential

Fossil fuel has the ability to produce a very high output of energy per given quantity. The fuel is able to generate more heat during combustion and have very high joules per kilogram. The ability to produce huge levels of energy makes fuel from fossils extremely efficient and reliable. Fossil fuel is therefore rated as having the highest calorific value making it dominant over any alternative sources of energy. The huge generation potential made the fuel the major source of power in the era of industrial and agrarian revolution. Fossil fuel does not depend on the prevailing climatic conditions unlike the Calorific value of solar and wind power which depends on the intensity of heat from the sun or the velocity of the wind respectively. Even a minute piece of coal can produce phenomenal levels of energy at any time in any environment.

Con: Bad for Humans and Animals

Issues of public health have been raised in countries where exploration and drilling are frequent. Diseases such as asthma, lung cancer, allergies, and chronic coughing have been attributed to the inhaling of gases resulting from combustion of fossil fuels. People living near factories or in large cities are prone to fossil fuel related diseases. Numerous deaths have occurred in coal mines and when gas has exploded. People working in coal mines are directly exposed to health-related issues such as ingestion of dust from the coal. In spite of the fact that safety clothing is recommended, solids and liquids from fossil fuels may find their way into the body of people involved in fossil fuel extraction. Drillers of natural gas and coal are at risk due to exposure to concentrated chemicals which might leak and be inhaled. Those working in the petroleum sector are exposed to both known and unknown toxic chemicals. Before the advancement of technology, there were numerous cases of people buried alive inside mines. Catastrophic damage has been recorded on animals living near fossil exploration sites. It is well documented that canary birds were used in coal mines to detect any harmful gas that could be leaking. Such gas could harm both human beings and animals in the vicinity of the mine. Marine life has been greatly affected by oil spills.

Pro: job creator

Fossil fuel has created millions of jobs directly or indirectly across the globe. Waking up one day and illegalizing the use of fossil fuel would lead to joblessness which could seriously harm the economy. People employed directly are the explorers, extractors, refiners, distributors, and marketers. Indirect jobs are found in the service industry, administration, and finance to ensure smooth operation by those directly employed. Plastic as a byproduct of fossil fuel has also created job opportunities for many people. In as much as plastic is not environmentally friendly, it is useful in making cheap medical, computer and other equipment which are also job creators. Fossil fuel is an economic driver. The fuel is tied to all sectors of the economy ranging from transport, manufacturing, commercial and just about every task that we perform daily. There is prosperity in countries where fossil fuel resource has been managed effectively leading to higher per capita and low unemployment levels.

Con: we will eventually run out

Fossil fuel is nonrenewable. This finite source of energy takes millions of years to fossilize, unlike solar and wind which are available on a daily basis. Regardless of the number of years it takes to get finished, there is a risk of depletion of fossil fuel. The translation is that once the petroleum, coal, and natural gas deposit reserves are completely used up, then we will have to wait for millions of years for more fossil fuel to form. Just before depletion, prices will hike because the demand will be higher than the supply. The biggest risk is political, economic, and social instability in countries that are dependant on fossil fuels.


More in World Facts