Coal, Oil & Natural Gas

AP Environmental Science

All About the Form

Coal: was formed from the remains of vegetation that grew as long as 400 million years ago. As the plants and trees died, their remains sank to the bottom of the swampy areas, accumulating layer upon layer and eventually forming peat.Over long periods of time, the makeup of the earth's surface changed, and seas and great rivers caused deposits of sand, clay and other mineral matter to accumulate, burying the peat. Sandstone and other sedimentary rocks were formed, and the pressure caused by their weight squeezed water from the peat. Increasingly deeper burial and the heat associated with it gradually changed the material to coal.

Oil: Millions of years ago, plants and animals living in the ocean absorbed energy from the sun and stored this energy in their bodies in the form of carbon. As these animals died, their bodies sank to the bottom of the ocean where they were covered with layers of sediment deposits.As these layers of sediment increased the heat and pressure exerted on these remains began to rise. The degree of heat and the amount of pressure, along with the type of biomass, directly influence whether oil or natural gas is formed. As heat increases, oil is formed.

Natural Gas: As a fossil fuel, natural gas is formed from the decaying remains of pre-historic plant and animal life. As with petroleum, most natural gas formation is due to the breakdown of prehistoric marine zooplankton. Zooplankton subsist on a diet of phytoplankton, which, in turn, rely upon the energy of the sun to produce organic matter and energy through photosynthesis. As these substances become buried under rock and other minerals, it becomes pushed together. Then with the addiction of extreme heat, the decaying remains transform into natural gas.

Effects & Disadvantages

Strip Mining:
  • Destroys landscapes, forests and wildlife habitats at the site of the mine when trees, plants, and topsoil are cleared from the mining area. This in turn leads to soil erosion and destruction of agricultural land.
  • When rain washes the loosened top soil into streams, sediments pollute waterways. This can hurt fish and smother plant life downstream, and cause dis-figuration of river channels and streams, which leads to flooding.
  • There is an increased risk of chemical contamination of ground water when minerals in upturned earth seep into the water table, and watersheds are destroyed when disfigured land loses the water it once held.
  • Causes dust and noise pollution when top soil is disrupted with heavy machinery and coal dust is created in mines.

Underground Mining:

  • Causes huge amounts of waste earth and rock to be brought to the surface – waste that often becomes toxic when it comes into contact with air and water.
  • Causes subsidence as mines collapse and the land above it starts to sink. This causes serious damage to buildings.
  • Lowers the water table, changing the flow of groundwater and streams. In Germany for example, over 500 million cubic meters of water are pumped out of the ground every year. Only a small percentage of this is used by industry or local towns – the rest is wasted. What’s worse is that removing so much water creates a kind of funnel that drains water from an area much larger than the immediate coal-mining environment.
  • Produces greenhouse gas emissions.


  1. Oil spills can cause huge environmental disasters.
  2. Criminals can easily hijack the oil tankers and some try to bomb the pipelines being used.
  3. Oil in use releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere which adds to the greenhouse effect.
  4. It can locally damage ecosystems and directly affect life expectancy.
  5. It is a non-renewable force.
  6. The cost of extracting oil is increasing rapidly.

Natural Gas:

  1. A non renewable resource.
  2. The pressure exerted by the gas can destroy the layers of soil above
  3. When the gas is removed the soil pressure increases and this can cause the ground to sink or collapse.
  4. The gas is combustible and explosive and can be extremely dangerous if handled improperly.
  5. Natural gas is mostly made up of methane, which is an asphyxiant that can take away your supply of oxygen.
  6. When inhaled natural gas can lead to severe health complications or even death.

Crude Oil Found Here!

Crude Oil: a dark oil consisting mainly of hydrocarbons

Separation: Since crude oil is a mixture of hydrocarbons with different boiling temperatures, it can be separated by distillation into groups of hydrocarbons that boil between two specified boiling points. Two types of distillation are performed to separate the oil, atmospheric and vacuum.

What you can get from Crude Oil:

  1. Asphalt on roads and parking lots
  2. Roofing shingles and roof coatings
  3. Pipe for houses and city water and sewer systems
  4. Ink on newspapers and magazines
  5. Clothing from synthetic fabrics
  6. Parachutes
  7. Crayons (TM)
  8. Computer cases
  9. Computer circuit boards
  10. Carpeting
  11. Floor covering
  12. Floor wax
  13. Paint
  14. Deodorant
  15. Shampoo
  16. Styrene which becomes styrofoam (TM)
  17. Hardhats and motorcycle helmets
  18. Cassette tapes, video tapes
  19. Shower enclosures
  20. Electrical insulation in buildings and computers
  21. Toothpaste
  22. Dishwashing soap
  23. Household detergent such as Tide (TM)
  24. Lipstick
  25. Tires
  26. Rope
  27. Fertilizer used to grow corn and other crops
  28. Household ammonia
  29. Camera film
  30. Candles
  31. Adhesive in plywood
  32. House paint
  33. Car battery cases, computer battery cases, etc
  34. Refrigerants used in household refrigerators and commercially
  35. Cold cream
  36. Glycerin
  37. Artificial turf
  38. Boats
  39. Vitamin capsules
  40. Aspirin
  41. Pharmaceuticals
  42. Fishing lures
  43. Soft contact lenses
  44. Shaving cream
  45. Antitfreeze used in auto cooling systems
  46. Antihistamines
  47. Petroleum jelly
  48. Insecticides, herbicides, fungicides
  49. Solvents
  50. Fan belts on engines
  51. Hand lotion
  52. Trash bags and grocery bags
  53. Caulking
  54. Golf balls
  55. Credit cards
  56. Furniture
  57. Furniture and cabinet coverings such as Formica (TM)
  58. Footballs, basketballs, soccer balls,
  59. Bandages
  60. Tubing used in medical hospitals for blood, fluids, etc.
  61. Insect repelant and mosquito netting
  62. Computer keyboards
  63. Computer mouse
  64. Adhesive and packing tap

Renewable v. Nonrenewable


  • Hydroelectric
  • Geothermal
  • Solar
  • Biomass
  • Wind


  • Coal
  • Nuclear
  • Natural Gas
  • Oil