Oil: Not Exactly Dead Dinosaurs

Contrary to what many people believe, fossil fuels and natural oil drawn from the earth are not formed from dinosaur fossils. However, the story of their creation is equally interesting! When we use the phrase “fossil fuels,” it is quite easy to immediately associate the term with dinosaur fossils. A fossil is not only the bones of a long-dead animal but also other parts, such as the skin and flesh that may have been preserved over time. In modern times, we mostly associate fossils with large dinosaur bones. This fact is so misleading that for a long time, it was even taught to children that fossil fuels were derived from dinosaurs. Although dinosaur bones do not contribute to fossil fuels, other organic matter did contribute after breaking down under some very extreme conditions. Another reason that we tend to associate dinosaurs with oil and fossil fuels may be due to the Sinclair Oil Corporation, previously known as the Sinclair Oil and Refining Corporation, which featured imagery relating to dinosaurs along with their corporate logo of a green dinosaur.

If you think about what else was alive during the time of the dinosaurs, we can see that there was an abundance of vegetation and smaller animals as well as numerous ocean life such as plankton and water plants. As all of these life forms died, they decomposed into the earth. Fast-forward millions of years into the future. Over this span of time, the landscape changed immensely. The ground was covered with countless layers of sand, sediment, rocks and mud. Sometimes it was washed over by the sea and later the seas would recede. With all of the pressure forced down, not the mention the extreme heat, the structure of the decomposed and deeply buried organic matter started to change dramatically. It turned into a thick type of oil and then even transformed into more gaseous states. There are three main natural states of fossil fuels: natural gas, oil, and coal. Natural gas and oil are typically found in areas where is or once was a vast sea bed. It uses a process of decomposition called anaerobic decomposition, which means that the dead matter is ultimately broken down by microbes without any oxygen. Over time the decomposed matter, by now known as kerogen, becomes a part of the sedimentary rocks. With plenty of time, heat and pressure on the rocks, gases and oil are released from the kerogen. On the other hand, coal is formed on land and the source is most often decomposed plant matter that has been under high amounts of pressure in the ground for a very long time.

There are slightly different processes for obtaining fossil fuels, depending on their natural state and where they have to be obtained. Obtaining oil from the ocean is a bit of a complicated process because of all the water. Engineers build special platforms called a drilling rig from where they can lower a drill deep down and recover the oil or gas. On land, teams of workers have to dig mines through the earth to obtain coal.

In their three main states, fossil fuels provide a number of uses for us in our everyday lives. The petrol that we use to power our vehicles is made from the thick, black oil that is drawn from the earth. Coal is used for a variety of purposes, from fueling fires to powering large machines. Natural gas is equally useful, as it is usually burned to create electricity and heat for all of our houses and offices.

Burning fossil fuels does generate power for us, but it also creates another by-product: carbon dioxide. We already know that too much carbon dioxide is not a good thing since it changes the balance of the Earth’s atmosphere, resulting in global warming. One of the most important things to remember about fossil fuels is that once they are used, they are gone. We cannot recycle or reuse them. For this reason, it is important for everyone to help conserve these precious resources that we have and use them wisely.