How Much Fossil Fuel Do We Use Today?

Reader Contribution by Kayla Matthews
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Unsplash/Mehluli Hikwa

In the United States and around the globe, people depend on fossil fuels for much of our energy production. This is changing — better knowledge of the health risks caused by pollution and the amount of greenhouse gases fossil fuels release into the atmosphere have made it a less popular option for energy production. Now, both governments and the citizens they represent are wary of depending on it indefinitely.

However, humans still rely on fossil fuels for much of our energy production. So, how much is used today?

What Current Fossil Fuel Use Looks Like

Fossil fuels are energy-dense deposits of natural fuel that are the results of millennia of decomposing organic matter. Oil, coal and natural gas supply the vast majority of the world’s energy.

Today, around 80 percent of all energy produced in the United States comes from these nonrenewable resources. Of this 80 percent, the largest share (37 percent) came from petroleum, the next largest (31 percent) from natural gas and the smallest (13 percent) from coal.

The remaining 20 percent of energy is produced by a combination of renewable resources — like wind and solar — hydro and nuclear power.

In terms of physical resources, Americans consume about 7.3 billion barrels of crude oil, 29.96 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 623 million tons of coal each year. About 46 percent of that oil, or 3.4 billion barrels, is turned into gasoline. Another 20 percent — 1.46 billion barrels — is made into diesel. The rest is used to produce electricity, as well as consumer and industrial goods — like mineral oil, plastic and steel.

Over the past few years, the amount of total energy consumed has increased, and so has the use of all fossil fuels. The percentage of petroleum and coal, however, has trended down, while natural gas use has gone up. This shift is likely due to the high supply of natural gas in the United States and advancements in fracking technology that make it easier to extract. It also emits less carbon dioxide than petroleum and coal when used to generate power.

Globally, the numbers look a little different — natural gas is used less often abroad, while coal is used slightly more. For the most part, global fossil fuel usage is the same as in the United States — primarily oil, but with significant contributions from natural gas and coal.

Future Trends in Fossil Fuel Usage

Because of the negative impact fossil fuels can have — both in causing pollution and emitting greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide — some countries are looking at other sources.

The long-term trend is moving in the direction of green energy — except nuclear, which has started to decline slowly. In the future, renewable energy will likely take up a much larger share of production than it does today.

Looking at the current trends, however, fossil fuels will continue to supply a large amount of our energy. While renewable energy has trended up somewhat in the past few decades, the gains haven’t been substantial — around 1 percentage point more of the total energy production every year. Barring major changes — like a nationwide or global push for 100 percent renewable energy — the future will be greener, but not fully powered by renewables.

At the same time, increasing oil prices may change our consumption habits and possibly push us away from dependence on oil. The cleaner fossil fuels — like natural gas and coal plants outfitted with devices that pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere — may continue to eat away at the usage rate of petroleum.

How People Will Use Fossil Fuels

Both globally and in the United States, fossil fuels provide the vast majority of the energy consumed annually. Our consumption of power — and use of fossil fuels — trends up slightly every year.

Our high use of fossil fuels may decrease somewhat in the future, as governments turn toward more sustainable solutions to energy production. However, it’s not likely that renewables will make up the majority of energy production any time soon.


Kayla Matthews has been writing about healthy living for several years and is proud to be a featured writer on a number of inspiring health sites, including Mother Earth News. To learn more about Kayla, you can follow her on Google+, Facebook and Twitter and check out her most recent posts on Productivity Theory

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