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Re: SC39

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March 24, 2007 12:02AM
http://energybulletin.net/27524.html

Burning the furniture

A soon-to-be-released study by the Energy Watch Group in Germany on the future of global coal supplies has implications so surprising and far-reaching that energy policymakers may take years to digest it. This essay is intended to help speed that process. The report’s central conclusion is that minable global coal reserves are much smaller than is commonly thought, and that a peak in world coal production is likely within only ten to fifteen years................

...........The EWG report’s authors, taking these factors into account, state: “it is likely that China will experience peak production within the next 5–15 years, followed by a steep decline.” Only if China’s reported coal reserves are in reality much larger than reported will Chinese coal production rates not peak “very soon” and drop rapidly.............

........... The United States is the world’s second-largest producer, surpassing the two next important producer states (India and Australia) by nearly a factor of three. Its reserves are so large that America has sometimes been called “the Saudi Arabia of coal.” The U.S. has already passed its peak of production for high-quality coal (from the Appalachian mountains and the Illinois basin) and has seen production of bituminous coal decline since 1990. However, growing extraction of sub-bituminous coal in Wyoming has more than compensated for this. Taking reserves into account, the authors of the report conclude that growth in total volumes can continue for 10 to 15 years. However, in terms of energy content U.S. coal production peaked in 1998 at 598 million tons of oil equivalents (Mtoe); by 2005 this had fallen to 576 Mtoe.

This forecast for a near-term peak in U.S. coal extraction flies in the face of frequently repeated statements that the nation has 200 years’ worth of coal reserves at current levels of consumption. The report notes: “all of these reserves will probably not be converted into production volumes, as most of them are of low quality with high sulfur content or other restrictions.” It also points out that “the productivity of mines in terms of produced tons per miner steadily increased until 2000, but declines since then.”........

............Given the nature of its findings, the EWG coal report should be regarded with utmost seriousness. Those findings must be examined carefully and checked against other studies (I am aware of a similar study under way in the Netherlands; as soon as it is available I plan to write a follow-up article to compare its results with those of the EWG). If the data and analysis described here hold up, the implications must be faced. World energy will begin to decline very soon, and there probably is no supply-side fix. The most important policies will be ones that have to do with proactive energy curtailment and systemic societal adjustment to lower consumption levels. Those policies will necessarily impact agriculture, transport, trade, urban design, and national electrical grid systems—and everything dependent on them, including global telecommunications.

In other publications I have advocated a Depletion Protocol for oil as a policy tool to enable societies to better adapt to the impending peak in global petroleum production. Depletion protocols for gas and coal, while not as critical (since these fuels are not traded globally to the same extent as oil), could also help with the difficult process of adaptation. Nations that are currently dependent on coal—China and the U.S. especially—would be wise to begin reducing consumption now, not only in the interests of climate protection, but also to reduce societal vulnerability arising from dependence on a resource ( coal ) that will soon begin to become more scarce and expensive...........
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