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What is Fossil Fuels Pollution?

Fossil fuels power much of the world.
Pollution caused by a factory burning fossil fuels.
Oil booms being used to limit the spread of an oil spill in the ocean.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2014
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Fossil fuels pollution is environmental pollution linked with the production and use of fossil fuels. Around the world, many nations rely heavily on fossil fuels for their energy needs, burning fossil fuels to generate electricity to heat homes, using fossil fuel powered cars, and utilizing fossil fuels for home heating needs. Concerns about the pollution generated through the use of fossil fuels has led a number of nations to pass strict environmental laws which are designed to reduce pollution and to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

Fossil fuels are fuels derived from deposits of oil which formed over the course of millions of years. While the oil is not literally fossilized, it is derived from the remains of plants and animals which appear in the fossil record, illustrating how old the oil is. The length of time required for oil to form has led people designate it a nonrenewable resource, meaning that once it is gone, there will not be any more. The oil is extracted through pumping, refined to break it into usable components, and shipped all over the world to supply energy needs and the need for raw materials for plastics manufacturing.

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Fossil fuels pollution occurs at several stages of this process. The process of extracting oil is often polluting, because crude oil can spill during pumping operations and because offgassing from oil fields is often burned or “flared,” generating polluting byproducts of combustion. The refining process also generates pollution, as does the transport of fossil fuels to their end destinations, and the combustion of fossil fuels for energy.

Combustion generates a number of gases which have been linked with the formation of smog and acid rain. Fossil fuels pollution appears to be a major contributing factor to the global warming trend first observed by scientists in the 20th century, and fossil fuels pollution has also been linked with air quality problems at ground level, making it difficult for people to breathe in crowded urban environments and contributing to human health problems around the world.

There is no way to utilize fossil fuels cleanly, although the process can be cleaned up. More effective filtering and trapping systems can be used to capture byproducts of combustion and refining before they have a chance to reach the environment, reducing fossil fuels pollution, and systems which burn fossil fuels can be designed for optimal efficiency so that they use less fuel. Many nations have created efficiency and pollution standards to push their citizens into using fossil fuels more responsibly.

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