Peak Coal: Will the US Run Out of Coal in 20 Years or 200 Years?  

Posted by Big Gav in

Greentech Media has an article arguing "peak coal" is occurring in the US as cheap to extract resources run out - Peak Coal: Will the US Run Out of Coal in 20 Years or 200 Years?. My understanding has been that coal use in the US has declined as natural gas has taken market share away from it, so I'm not so sure I buy this (most early peak arguments seem to be more wishful thinking than reality based) but I haven't looked at the data so maybe the two events are coinciding...

U.S. coal production has peaked, and the miscalculations that have led to estimates of a 200-year supply could create a serious electricity deficit for the nation, according to a new report from advocacy group Clean Energy Action.

“The belief that the U.S. has a ‘200-year’ supply of coal is based on faulty reporting by the EIA,” concludes the report, Warning: Faulty Reporting of U.S. Coal Reserves. “Most U.S. coal is buried too deeply to be mined at a profit and should not be categorized as reserves, but rather as ‘resources.’” “The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s estimate of the nation’s coal is ‘a faulty fuel gauge’ because the U.S. is rapidly approaching the end of economically recoverable coal,” explained report co-author Leslie Glustrom of Clean Energy Action. “We’re acting like we have a full tank. No one knows exactly when empty will come, but we should be prepared.”

The economic viability of the U.S. coal resource is compromised because “it is buried too deeply and costs too much to mine it,” Glustrom said. Peabody Coal CEO Greg Boyce’s Q3 2013 earnings report call remarks about reduced capital expenditures in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin seem to confirm that coal is becoming “too expensive to mine,” according to Glustrom. “Nationally, coal production appears to have peaked in 2008 at 1.171 billion tons,” the report states. “U.S. coal production in 2012 had fallen by about 155 million tons to 1.016 billion tons.”

EIA data puts production for the first half of 2013 at 488 million tons, Glustrom added. “We are not even on track to get to a billion tons. That would be back to 1993 levels.”

Think Progress has a post highlighting one of the drivers behind the "peak coal consumption' in China argument, new restrictions on coal use in Shanghai and Beijing - Shanghai To Forbid Coal Burning As China Decides To Monitor Smog’s Effects.

On Friday, Shanghai released its Clean Air Action Plan in an effort to rapidly and substantially improve the air quality in China’s most populous city of nearly 24 million residents. The primary focus is to reduce the concentration of PM2.5 (particulate matter of 2.5 microns or less) by around 20 percent from 2012 levels by 2017.

The plan, which broadly targets six areas — energy, industry, transportation, construction, agriculture, and social life — will completely ban coal burning in 2017. This entails closing down more than 2,500 boilers and 300 industrial furnaces that use coal, or shifting them to clean energy by 2015. ...

Earlier this year a study found that severe pollution has slashed an average of five-and-a-half years from the life expectancy in northern China as toxic air has led to higher rates of stroke, heart disease, and cancer.

China has been making a very public push to confront growing concern over air pollution, including publishing a list of its 10 worst — and best — cities for air pollution each month.

China also released a new $817 billion plan to fight air pollution in September, with a strong focus on Beijing. According to a Greenpeace analysis, up to seventy percent of Beijing’s pollution comes from coal-burning factories and power plants surrounding the city.

China is also currently in the early stages of testing pilot carbon markets in seven cities, including Shanghai and Beijing. The pilot programs will help the government make a decision about setting up a national carbon market in the near future.

the Guardian reports that Al Gore and David Blood are warning about stranded investments in fossil fuel assets in coming years - Al Gore: world is on brink of 'carbon bubble'.

The world is on the brink of the "largest bubble ever" in finance, because of the undisclosed value of high-carbon assets on companies' balance sheets, and investment managers who fail to take account of the risks are failing in their fiduciary duty to shareholders and investors, Al Gore and his investment partner, David Blood, have said.

"Stranded carbon assets" such as coal mines, fossil fuel power stations and petrol-fuelled vehicle plants represent at least $7tn on the books of publicly listed companies, and about twice as much again is owned by private companies, state governments and sovereign wealth funds.

As the danger from climate change intensifies, and as rules on carbon and the introduction of carbon pricing in many parts of the world start to bite, these assets are expected to come under threat, from regulation and from the need to transform the economy on to a low-carbon footing. The "carbon bubble" has been identified by leading thinkers on climate change in recent years, but so far the findings have had little real effect on investor behaviour.

The SMH reports Australia's largest coal mine / stranded asset is to be built in Queensland's Galilee Basin - Largest coal mine approved in Queensland.

The federal government has approved a massive coal mining project in central Queensland that will be the largest in the country. Environment Minister Greg Hunt approved the 37,380 hectare Kevin's Corner project on Friday.

The mine, to be operated by a joint India-Australia consortium, GVK-Hancock, is the first to be approved since the introduction of a new water trigger rule by the previous federal government. Greenpeace claims Kevin's Corner will use more than nine billion litres of water a year and the Lock the Gate Alliance says more information on its impact on Galilee Basin groundwater is needed.


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