October is National Energy Awareness Month, a month dedicated to raising awareness for the importance of sustainable energy solutions for the United States. Over the past few years, the debate over America’s energy needs has introduced the nation to buzzwords like fossil fuels, fracking and renewable energy. But what do these terms really mean?
In celebration of National Energy Awareness Month, Payless Power will be giving an in-depth look into a different energy sources during each week in October, starting with fossil fuels.
- What are fossil fuels?
Fossil fuels provide the majority of energy in the United States. Fossil fuels describe natural fuels, such as coal or gas, that have formed from the remains of living organisms. Decomposing plants and animals create geological deposits of materials that can be converted to oil, coal or natural gas. Because this process occurs underground, fossil fuels must be either drilled for or mined, depending on the kind of material being collected.
- How do fossil fuels impact the environment?
The collection and use of fossil fuels has been at the center of the political realm in recent years due to the impact these materials have on the environment. For example, hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, is a method of collecting natural gas that has been criticized in recent years because it is believed that the process can trigger low-magnitude earthquakes. Additionally, government plans for new oil pipelines like Keystone XL and the Dakota Access Pipeline have been widely protested due to fears of future spills or other malfunctions.
Also, the effects of fossil fuels have caused environmental concern since the 1970s. When fossil fuels are burned, they produce greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, that trap heat in the atmosphere and keep the earth’s surface warmer than it normally would be. This greenhouse effect has been a leading cause of climate change worldwide. In addition to the greenhouse effect, the burning of fossil fuels, especially coal, produces emissions that are linked to acid rain, respiratory illnesses and smog.
- Is there anything positive about fossil fuels?
Although the harvesting and burning of fossil fuels has been heavily debated, hydraulic fracturing has helped increase domestic oil production while simultaneously decreasing gas prices nationwide. This method is helping the United States become more energy independent and generates electricity at half the carbon dioxide emissions as coal, according to BBC. Additionally, the oil and gas industry has added over 130,000 new oil and gas wells nationwide in the last seven years, and Texas alone has recovered 100 percent of the jobs lost during the Great Recession thanks to the industry.
- What does the future of fossil fuels look like?
Despite the environmental concerns over fossil fuels, these materials remain the top source of energy in the United States. In 2016, fossil fuels accounted for 66.9 percent of the energy that was converted to electricity in the United States, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration and Institute for Energy Research. Last year also marked the first time that natural gas surpassed coal for the largest share of United States electricity generation, according to the Washington Post. Although renewable forms of energy, such as wind and hydroelectric energy, are gaining popularity, fossil fuels aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Check back each week in October as Payless Power takes a closer look at different energy sources. Be sure to follow Payless Power on Facebook and Twitter for more energy statistics and electricity-saving tips!