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The history of fossil fuels

Nicholas Newman November 2017
A dirty coal miner displays a lump of coal as a power and energy source.

Virtually all of the fossil fuels, including the coal, crude oil and natural gas we use today, was created millions of years ago before, during and even after the days of the dinosaurs. Since then, such materials have played an important part in mankind’s evolution…

Virtually all of the fossil fuels, including the coal, crude oil and natural gas we use today, was created millions of years ago before, during and even after the days of the dinosaurs. Since then, such materials have played an important part in mankind’s evolution. Even in pre-historic times, our ancestors exploited small outcrops of oils and minerals, gradually paving the way for tin, bronze and iron production. Since then, fossil fuels have played an essential part in human history, fostering technical innovation, industrial production and the cultural and artistic resources of civilized societies.

Coal, oil and gas were available and used in small quantities for industrial purposes by the ancient Babylonians, Egyptians and Chinese. Unlike oil and gas, which are geographically concentrated, coal is a widespread resource and has been mined for over a 1,000 years in China and Britain. It was coal that bolstered Britain’s industrial revolution of the 18th century, which was to be joined by commercial quantities of oil and gas in the next century. Together, the three main fossil fuels continue to underpin our industrial and economic activity as well as bringing comfort to society in the form of lighting, heating, cooking, and mobility in the form of cars, trains, planes and boats.

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