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Lecture 11

EESA01H3 Lecture Notes - Lecture 11: Fossil Fuel, Nuclear Power, Geothermal Heating


Department
Environmental Science
Course Code
EESA01H3
Professor
Carl Mitchell
Lecture
11

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EESA01H3 F: Lecture 11 - Atmospheric Pollution and Non-Renewable Energy. November
21st, 2016.
“Fossil” Fuels:
Fossil fuels come from the tissues of organisms that lived 100-500 million years ago.
Old organic matter that has been compressed and buried.
This organic matter is only partially broken down in an anaerobic environment.
It is technically a renewable energy source, but is on an extremely low renewal cycle.
Kerogen: is an oil precursor formed from millions of years of organic matter
decomposition. It’s a semi-oil.
Can become coal, oil, or natural gas.
Geothermal heating alters kerogen physically and chemically to form various fossil fuels.
The type depends on the chemistry of the original organic matter, temperature, pressure,
microbe communities and time.
Usually end up with coal.
In marine environments you end up with more oil and natural gas.
Figure 1: Fossil Fuel Formation.
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Coal:
Coal is formed from peat deposits laid down 300-400 million years ago and put under
intense pressure with little digestion or decomposer action.
Coal is a rock and provides about 1/4th of the world’s total energy consumption.
Has a very high carbon content.
Figure 2: Coal Formation.
There are different types of coal depending on the heat and pressure exerted.
Coal Mining:
Subsurface mining: Shafts, networks, or tunnels are used to expose coal seams. Once
a seam is intersected, digging occurs.
It is very hazardous.
It’s very expensive due to specialized equipment.
Strip mining: Heavy machinery is used to remove strips and expose seams from the
surface down.
It’s a very expansive method, creation of a quarry.
Mountaintop removal: Explosives are set on a mountain to blow the top off into an
adjacent valley.
Coal Mining Impacts:
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1. Habitat loss (specifically from strip mining).
2. Soil erosion due to the removal of protected vegetated land which holds subsurfaces
together.
Contribution to sediment pollution in downstream ecosystems.
3. Air pollution due to burning, especially from marine sources of coal due to the sulfur
content of the sea.
4. Generates other hazardous solid wastes.
Tailings.
5. Acid mine drainage: Sulfur minerals in exposed rocks react with air and water to create
sulfuric acid, which can runoff and leach metals (increase in toxicity).
6. Rehabilitation and restoration efforts rarely return things to “normal” and certainly not in
short timeframes.
7. Negative health effects such as black lung disease and death from shaft collapses.
It’s dangerous to inhale the particulate matter.
Natural Gas:
The principle natural gas is methane, CH4.
Natural gas is being popularized and is currently about ¼ of the world’s commercial
energy use.
It is considerably cleaner than burning oil or coal.
Although CH4 has very high global warming potential.
World supplies of natural gas will be depleted in 50-60, although it may be longer
with the use of fracking.
Biogenic gas: is produced by the action of bacteria who decompose organic matter
anaerobically.
Collecting gas released from a capped landfill.
Thermogenic gas: results from the compression of organic matter and heating deep
beneath the earth’s surface.
This is why the vast majority of natural gas is considered a fossil fuel.
It can be formed directly as a result of heating and compression of oil and coal.
Kerogen in the precursor to both oil and thermogenic gas.
The gas is found in conjunction with oil and/or coal.
Fracking:
Fracking: is the pumping of salt water or other dense fluids under high deep pressure
deep into rocks (shale) in order to fracture and crack them.
It involves deep drilling into shale, which tends to have natural gas.
Fluid is injected into the hole.
Environmental issues:
It is very water intensive.
Possible groundwater contamination, likelihood is low.
Wastewater disposal.
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