We 21st-century humans live high-tech lives, and those many gadgets and tools require power ... and lots of it. As scientists continue to sound the alarm regarding global warming, more and more companies are looking for fuel sources that are cleaner and produces fewer greenhouse gases. In the United States, the coal and gas industries have been fighting to keep (or expand) their profits as our energy needs escalate. In this highly combustible quiz, what do you really know about coal and natural gas? You don't want to smoke around one, and you definitely don't want to wear your white shirt while digging the other, but there's a lot more to it!
Coal and natural gas have a lot of similarities, and their origins are much the same. But getting at these energy sources and then actually using them requires a lot of different technologies, many of which are subject to government oversight and regulation. Do you understand how companies harvest these vital commodities, and how they use them to produce electricity?
From mining to fracking, train transport to thousands of miles of pipelines, these two fuel sources have different consequences for producers and consumers alike. Get your engine running with this coal and natural quiz now!
Both coal and natural gas are types of fossil fuels. Coal is a solid; natural gas is, as the name implies, a vapor, or gas.
For many decades, coal has been a staple fuel for electricity production. It's the basis for about 40% of America's electricity.
Coal is no longer the energy source of choice in many parts of America. Power plants have reduced their coal usage by 25% since 2008.
Coal is often regarded as a rather dirty fuel, one that releases more impurities and byproducts. Natural gas is considered the cleaner of the two.
It takes a lot of heavy work to mine and transport coal. Natural gas, on the other hand, is much easier to work with, one reason it's also cheaper for the purposes of power generation.
In 2016, natural gas passed coal by … and hasn't looked back. Given current regulations and market trends, gas is the future of power production.
For years, federal emissions standards have been tightening the noose on dirty coal. So power plants have been slowly but surely switching to gas.
Fracking is the process of shooting high-pressure liquids into the ground to force natural gas (or oil) to a place where it can be harvested. Improved fracking efficiency has made gas much cheaper.
Producers force natural gas through pipelines all over the country. These pipelines occasionally rupture in spectacular (and tragic) fashion.
Coal is subjected to massive regulation and controlled by huge companies. Natural gas is often deregulated, meaning that smaller companies can take part in the market, often offering better competition and prices.
Both natural gas and coal, when burned, contribute carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. But gas is cleaner than coal, adding less to the burden of global warming.
Engineers have made strides with horizontal drilling technologies in recent years. These drills allow them to get at natural gas deposits that would otherwise be inaccessible.
In unruly weather, power lines take a beating, meaning your coal-based electricity may go offline. Natural gas appliances, however, keep right on working (unless there's an earthquake, and that's a different story).
California has long been a leader in clean-energy policies. About one-third of its power comes from gas … and just 4% emerges from coal.
Fracking uses high-pressure chemicals injected into terra firma. In some cases, it can contanminate drinking water supplies.
Coal is an awfully dirty fuel source. Gas is much cleaner, emitting half as much carbon dioxide during energy production.
Many oil wells lack the technologies to make use of the natural gas they tap into. So oil producers simply burn it (or "flare") it off rather than deal with it.
Power plants that rely on coal also need a lot of water. That water is needed partly to remove coal impurities that would otherwise hamper power production.
Natural gas is primarily methane. Methane is combustible for power generation purposes … but it's also a potent greenhouse gas. So if it's released into the environment, bad things happen.
Coal is a rather filthy fuel. And it doesn't just burn away -- it leaves behind ash. And that ash has to be disposed of.
Leaks are a major downside to natural gas because methane is so hard on the environment. One pound of methane is equal to 23 pounds of carbon dioxide.
Sulfur dioxide is a toxic gas that produces that familiar burnt match smell. And in using natural gas, power companies drop their releases of sulfur dioxide by 99%.
It's why leaks are such a concern in the energy industry -- methane traps heat 30 times as efficiently has carbon dioxide. That means when natural gas leaks, it's making global warming even worse.
Natural gas is hardly harmless to the environment. It's handling often releases methane (a greenhouse gas) into the atmosphere. It can contribute greatly to global warming.
Imagine trying to force an invisible vapor through miles and miles of underground pipelines, which obviously have seams. That's a tall order even with modern technologies, and it's a reason natural gas lines are often leaky.
As human garbage decays, it produces -- you guessed it, methane. It's possible for natural gas companies to tap into landfills in order to fulfill energy needs.
Acids, like hydrochloric acid, are often using as part of the hydraulic fracking liquids that force gas to the surface. Add in hundreds of potential other chemicals -- none of which are healthy for humans or wildlife -- and it's easy to see how water supplies can quickly become tainted.
Hydraulic fracking alters subterranean areas. In some places, fracking has been linked to seismic activity, although no one has linked any sort of major earthquakes to natural gas production.
Wind and solar power are very clean sources of power. Natural gas is cleaner than coal, but not nearly as clean as solar or wind.
Small gas leaks are a challenge throughout the industry, and they do impact gas's appeal in terms of the environment. And as leaks continue, they may slow gas's adoption in place of fuels like diesel.