But the impacts of fossil fuels start long before their carbon dioxide reaches the atmosphere. Our new research, published today in Science, looks at the effects of coal, oil and gas extraction on biodiversity. The problem Biodiversity loss is accelerating, and the risks to biodiversity are increasing.
Those represent the direct costs of fossil fuels; money paid out of pocket for energy from coal, natural gas, and oil.
What are fossil fuels? Fossil fuels are rock-like, gas, or liquid resources that are burned to generate power. They include coal, natural gas, and oil, and are used as an energy source in the electricity and transportation sectors. Externalities are sometimes easy to see, such as pollution and land degradation, and sometimes less obvious, such as Explain why fossil fuel exploration could costs of asthma and cancer, or the impacts of sea level rise.
Many consequences are far removed from our daily lives and may only affect a minority or marginalized subset of the population. Costs accrue at every point of the fossil fuel supply chain.
Extraction processes can generate air and water pollution, and harm local communities. Transporting fuels from the mine or well can cause air pollution and lead to serious accidents and spills. When the fuels are burned, they emit toxins and global warming emissions.
Even the waste products are hazardous to public health and the environment. Understanding these impacts is critical for evaluating the true cost of fossil fuels—and for informing our choices around the future of energy production. Extracting fossil fuels Photo: Shutterstock There are two main methods for removing fossil fuels from the ground: Mining is used to extract solid fossil fuels, such as coal, by digging, scraping, or otherwise exposing buried resources.
Drilling methods help extract liquid or gaseous fossil fuels that can be forced to flow to the surface, such as conventional oil and natural gas. Both processes carry serious health and environmental impacts.
Coal mining Over the past several decades, there has been a gradual shift from underground coal mining to surface mining in the United States. Surface mining, which is only effective for shallow deposits, often employs highly invasive techniques, including area strip mining and mountaintop removal.
Underground mining The most obvious and severe cost of underground coal mining is the threat it poses to the health and safety of coal miners. In addition to job site accidents, coal mining can lead to chronic health disorders.
Black lung disease pneumoconiosis continues to be a common ailment among coal miners. The disease was responsible for the deaths of approximately 10, former miners between andand continues today [ 3 ].
Adverse impacts to the environment are another significant cost of underground coal mining. Mines can collapse or gradually subside, affecting surface and subsurface water flows. Mine fires also occur, particularly in abandoned mines. And acid mine drainage at underground coal mines can be a long term environmental management issue; according to the US Environmental Protection Agency EPAif active and abandoned coal mines are not properly managed, water can sometimes flow through the mine and become highly acidic and rich in heavy metals.
The resulting drainage water is detrimental to human, plant, and animal life [ 4 ]. Surface mining Surface mining involves removing the overlaying soil to access the coal below, devastating local environments.
Mountaintop removal, a particularly destructive form of surface mining, involves stripping all trees and other vegetation from peaks and hilltops, and then blasting away hundreds of feet of the earth below with explosives.
Runoff water, laden with metals, from a mountain top removal site. The process results in both short- and long-term environmental impacts.
In the short term, huge volumes of excess rock and soil are typically dumped into adjacent valleys and streams, altering their ecosystems and diverting the natural flow of streams. In the long term, coal removal sites are left with poor soil that typically only supports exotic grasses. Buried valleys are similarly slow to rebound.
The EPA reports that as ofmountaintop removal coal extraction had buried nearly 2, miles of Appalachian headwater streams, some of the most biologically diverse streams in the country [ 6 ].
Surface mining can also directly impact the health and safety of surrounding communities. Mudslides, landslides, and flashfloods may become more common. And depending on the chemical makeup of the coal deposit, mines can pollute local drinking water sources with toxic chemicals like selenium, arsenic, manganese, lead, iron, and hydrogen sulfide [ 7 ].
A Harvard University study, which assessed the life cycle costs and public health effects of coal from tofound a link to lung, cardiovascular, and kidney diseases—such as diabetes and hypertension—and an elevated occurrence of low birth rate and preterm births associated with surface mining practices.
Oil and gas drilling The environmental and health costs of onshore and offshore oil and gas drilling are also significant, and often unseen. The impacts of unconventional extraction methods, such as natural gas hydraulic fracturing commonly called fracking have received much attention, but all methods of oil and gas extraction carry hidden costs.
Water impact When oil and gas are extracted, water that had been trapped in the geologic formation is brought to the surface.Production of these fossil fuels is expected to rise, approximately doubling the amount of use of each fossil fuel. As world population continues to grow and the limited amount of fossil fuels begin to diminish, it may not be possible to provide the amount of energy demanded by the world by only using fossil fuels to convert energy.
There are plenty of ways to convert energy without fossil.
It was already known that there is about three times more fossil fuel in reserves that could be exploited today than is compatible with 2C, and over 10 times more fossil fuel resource that could.
Today, fossil fuel industries drill or mine for these energy sources, burn them to produce electricity, or refine them for use as fuel for heating or transportation.
Over the past 20 years, nearly three-fourths of human-caused emissions came from the burning of fossil . Home / Features / Debates / The energy debate: Renewable energy cannot replace fossil fuels. April 12, The energy debate: Renewable energy cannot replace fossil fuels.
By Toni Pyke for fossil fuel exploration and extraction over nine years.
But the impacts of fossil fuels start long before their carbon dioxide reaches the atmosphere. Our new research, published today in Science, looks at the effects of coal, oil and gas extraction on biodiversity.
Coal, crude oil, and natural gas are all considered fossil fuels because they were formed from the buried remains of plants and animals that lived millions of years ago. Uranium ore, a solid, is mined and converted to a fuel used at nuclear power plants.