The remains of dead plants and animals buried deep underneath the earth's crust form fossil fuels. The process for organic matter to become fuel we can burn for energy takes millions of years. Yet, when burnt for energy, fossil fuels cause a lot of harm to humans and the environment. Below are 34 interesting fossil fuel facts that help us understand the impact of fossil fuels as the move to more sustainable energy sources gathers pace.
Fossil fuels contain carbon and hydrogen, which we process into a non-renewable source of energy that provides us with power. Natural gas, coal, and crude oil are forms of fossil fuels, and they are the cheapest of all fuels.
#1 - In 2019, around 84.3% of our energy globally came from oil, natural gas, and coal1
Fossil fuels, like oil, coal, and gas, remain an important part of the world's energy mix, especially in developing regions.
#2 - In 2019, global oil consumption grew by a below-average 0.9 million barrels per day1
As oil consumption grew by 0.9%, the demand for all liquid fuels, including biofuels, rose by 1.1 million barrels per day (b/d) and topped 100 million b/d for the first time. This was slightly lower than the 10-year average of 1.3%.
#3 - Globally, in 2019, Natural gas consumption increased by 2%1
In 2018 we recorded an exceptional 5.3% growth in the use of natural gas was seen. Natural gas demands grew by 78 billion cubic meters (bcm), with the United States leading by 27 bcm and China by 24 bcm.
However, the United States and China's consumption rate was slower in 2019 due to weather effects and policy-driven coal to natural gas switching in China. The largest decline occurred in Russia by ten bcm due to a reduction in unusually hot and cold days.
#4- Global oil production fell by 60,000 barrels per day in 20191
#5- 27% of primary energy worldwide came from Coal1
#6 - About 38.4% of electricity generated in the US in 2019 was from coal[ref]
#7 - Coal consumption has decreased by 11 quads since 2007 in the US[ref]
The fact remains that the US mines a great deal of coal. All mining operations, including surface mining, strip mining, or deep mining, contribute to pollution that causes environmental concerns, smog, and respiratory illnesses.
#8 - 80% of the US's total domestic energy production in 2019 came from fossil fuels[ref]
A considerable percentage of energy used in the United States comes from coal, natural gas, and oil. These fossil fuels have fed about 80% of the nation's energy demand. Although there has been a slight decline down from 84% a decade earlier, the use of energy sources like natural gas has soared.
#9 - Energy consumption from fossil fuels has fallen from 94% in 1966 to 80% in 2019[ref]
There has been little to no growth in the sale or production of coal for use in the energy industry all across America. A significant factor that caused the decrease is the environmental impact surface mining and burning coal has had on the environment. The kinds of practices some coal reserves companies follow during the coal mining process have contributed to the decline from its peak of 86 quads in 2007.
#10 - Active crude oil and gas well threaten about 12.6 million people in America[ref]
Fossil fuel facts like this show that many people inhale harmful air pollutants long daily, and the toxic air pollution from active oil and gas wells and transport and processing facilities. Places such as Canada's boreal forest present a giant carbon energy source. However, the related strip mining operations can cause severe health impacts
#11 - Approximately 63% of electricity in the US comes from burning fossil fuels1
A huge percent of our electricity comes from burning fossil fuels, mostly coal and natural gas. Generating electricity from alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar, produces a significantly smaller carbon content.
#12 - The burning of fossil fuels is the largest energy source of GHG emissions1
Human activities across the United States contribute to a large source of greenhouse gases (GHG). Activities such as burning fossil fuels for electricity, heat, and transportation generate the largest share of GHG.
#13 - The global cost of air pollution from fossil fuels has reached an estimated US$8 billion per day2
Despite some countries' and oil producers' efforts to push for cleaner fuel, air pollution continues to harm billions of people daily. Fossil fuels like coal, crude oil, and natural gas continue to be used to generate electricity and power our vehicles.
Meanwhile, our health and our communities are paying the price. A "transportation revolution" that involves adopting renewable energy sources to power our vehicles and investing in clean, carbon-neutral, accessible transit will reduce air pollution.
#14 - The global cost of air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels is equivalent to 3.3% of the world's GDP2
A phaseout of existing gas power plants and vehicles powered by coal and oil is one step that will bring about significant public health benefits. This will also help to mitigate climate change by keeping global temperatures below 1.5 degrees of pre-industrial levels.
Other emerging technologies such as climate capture, although nascent, point to opportunities to reduce emissions as we move to renewable energy.
#15 -The China Mainland bears the highest economic cost of fossil fuel air pollution at an estimated $900 billion yearly2
#16 - The United States bears the second-highest economic cost of fossil fuel air pollution at an estimated $600 billion annually2
This is a threat to our health and economy as millions of people get sick and die prematurely.
#17 - India bears the third highest economic cost of fossil fuels air pollution at an estimated $150 billion per year2
#18 - Global fossil CO2 gas emissions rose 62% between 1990 and 2019[ref]
Carbon dioxide emissions result from the combustion of fossil fuels and indirectly from power plants. 62% of these emissions result from direct fossil fuel combustion used during industrial processes. The remaining emissions result from electricity generation for motors, electric furnaces, ovens, lighting, and other applications.
#19 - The growth of fossil fuel emissions has slowed to around 1% per year in the last decade. Down from 3% annual growth during the 2000s[ref]
This near-zero-emissions growth shows that a decline in the effect of carbon dioxide is possible. Yet, in the early 2010s, this decrease did not stabilize, which means climate change worsened.
#20 - During the lockdown in early April 2020, daily global fossil CO2 emissions dropped 17% compared to mean daily estimates in 2019[ref]
2020 recorded the biggest drop in carbon emissions in a long time since world war II. Emissions from vehicles, industries, and air travel ramped down substantially in the hardest-hit nations. There may be an increase in carbon emissions if all the industries and human activities start again.
#21 - Fossil fuel-related emissions are responsible for about 70% of the climate cooling by anthropogenic aero-solutions3
Aircraft engines emit gases and particles that alter the atmospheric gases and may increase cirrus cloudiness, contributing to climate change.
#22 - There are 750,000 childhood asthma attacks due to oil & gas ozone smog[ref]
Children with existing respiratory conditions are at risk of suffering from health problems like asthma attacks, bronchitis, and emphysema, leading to premature death.
Even in areas far from crude oil and natural gas production, when smog levels are highest, people will have to find shelter indoors in the warmest months of the year, robbing them of their summers and their ability to work and recreate outdoors.
#23 - 238 counties face elevated cancer risk concerns from crude oil and gas emissions[ref]
#24 - 4.5 million premature deaths yearly worldwide are attributable to air pollution generated by burning fossil fuels2
As these fossil fuel facts show, pollution has contributed to an increase in chronic and acute illnesses, which has led a lot of people to their death beds. And as well as damage to our economies and the environment.
#25 - An estimated 2 million preterm births each year are attributable to fossil fuel industry pollution2
#26 - Air pollution from burning fossil fuels results in an estimated 12,000 premature deaths every day2
#27 - Researchers attribute an estimated 500,000 premature deaths from chronic diseases to fossil fuel-related NO2 pollution2
#28 - About 3 million premature adult deaths yearly from cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases, and lung cancer researchers attribute to air pollution from fossil fuels2
People who live in low and middle-income countries use fossil fuels such as wood, charcoal, coal, kerosene, open fires, and inefficient stoves. These cooking practices produce high levels of household air pollution.
The impact is a range of health-damaging pollutants that causes noncommunicable diseases, including stroke, ischaemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and lung cancer, which could lead to premature death.
#29 - 1 million premature deaths are attributed to fossil fuel-related ozone pollution every year2
#30 - 40,000 children may die before their fifth birthday due to illnesses related to exposure to fossil fuel air pollution2
#31 - Forecaster project US natural gas plant liquids production to rise nearly 35% above the 2017 level by 20234
If this happens, that will mean 50 to 60 percent less carbon dioxide (CO2) due to natural gas combustion in new, efficient natural gas power plants. This is cleaner burning than other fossil fuels because natural gas combustion produces negligible amounts of sulfur, mercury, and particulates.
#32 - If countries maintain the Paris Agreement pledges beyond 2030, they forecast fossil fuel share in the global energy mix to decline from approximately 80 percent today to 73-76 percent in 2040[ref]
The Paris Agreement's 184 climate pledges aim to curb GHG emissions. So far, only a few countries are now pursuing climate policies consistent with keeping global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius, the long-term target recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
#33 - One study showed that removing fossil fuel emissions could result in a 3.61 million decrease in the attributable yearly deaths3
Fossil fuels, including coal, crude oil, and natural gas, are responsible for most global greenhouse gas emissions. Beyond the direct health benefits, rapidly decreasing fossil fuel emissions would reduce the number of deaths caused by pollution.
#34 - There may be a decline in fossil CO2 emissions for 2020, approximately in the range of 4% to 7% compared to 2019 levels[ref]
Our final fossil fuel fact shows that 2020 holds the largest absolute drop in a long while. We can attribute a proportion of this to reduced industry and travel due to the global pandemic. Due to numerous global lockdowns, people have canceled international holidays, resulting in less demand for burning jet fuel and reduced travel emissions.
Even at that, this drop in emissions in a single year will not slow the pace of global warming. Instead, it can serve as a guide to secure long-term emissions cuts.
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.