Examining the Different Types of Fossil Fuels

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Coal, oil, and natural gas are all fossil fuels, but they're not all the same. They differ in how they're used, how much they're used, the greenhouse gases that they release when they're burned, and even where they come from.

When land plants, such as trees, decomposed hundreds of millions of years ago, they pressed together into a solid form known as coal. Plants and animals in the oceans decomposed in a similar way — sinking to the bottom of the ocean, getting buried under sediments, forming peat, and eventually being compressed into fossil fuels such as oil.

Each type of fossil fuel has a different amount of carbon in it, so it puts a different amount of carbon dioxide into the air when it's burned. Coal releases the most carbon dioxide when burned, natural gas the least. In the following sections, we take a closer look at the different types of fossil fuels, starting with the worst offender, coal, and working our way down to natural gas.

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