The Coal Barons’ Fading Dreams

May 30, 2017

 

Classic DC gaffe is to speak the truth.

CNN Money:

“Coal doesn’t even make that much sense anymore as a feedstock,” Gary Cohn said, aboard Air Force One on Thursday, referring to raw materials that get converted into a fuel.
Cohn, who serves as director of the White House National Economic Council, instead praised natural gas as “such a cleaner fuel” — and one that America has become an “abundant producer of.”

While Trump rarely talks up the potential of renewable energy, Cohn sounds like a fan.

“If you think about how solar and how much wind power we’ve created in the United States, we can be a manufacturing powerhouse and still be environmentally friendly,” Cohn said.

Cohn’s comments stand out, but not because they are inaccurate. They jive with what energy experts have been saying for some time. It’s just that Cohn’s comments sound like ones that were written by President Obama’s speechwriters, not Trump’s.

The White House didn’t respond to questions about whether Cohn’s remarks signal a shift in Trump’s energy and environmental policies.

Traditionally we’ve been told about the “hundreds of years worth of coal” supplies. I’ve posted before about the serious flaws in that notion.

Bloomberg:

Ritchie, a Ph.D. candidate in resources and the environment at the University of British Columbia, was working as a teaching assistant in 2013 and trying to come up with assignments for his students. Looking through “business as usual” and worst-case scenarios for the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, he saw that reliance on coal for energy started ramping up around 2040.

“Why is that?” he remembers asking himself.

The question evolved into his dissertation work—and to the most provocative conclusion of his study, published last month to little fanfare in the journal Energy Economics. Inflated coal estimates had become at some point “a virtually unlimited backstop supply [that] has misinformed a generation of long-term energy scenarios,” Ritchie and his co-author, UBC professor Hadi Dowlatabadi, write in their paper. The estimates reflected all geologically identified coal, not the fraction it may be possible to dig out.

In other words, Ritchie and Dowlatabadi found, there may not be enough accessible coal to fuel the worst-case scenario of global warming.

“For the past quarter-century, high emission baselines have been the focus of research, explicitly or implicitly shaping national policy benchmarks, such as estimates for the social cost of carbon,” the paper says, referring to the dollars-per-ton measure used by government and business to factor future climate damage into today’s spending.

That sentence flies pretty close to the white-hot center of the climate policy debate in Washington. Quantifying the “social cost of carbon” is an arduous process that has become a highly politicized issue. Steep costs from capping coal emissions have been baked into policy for years, “and realistically I don’t know if that can hold up anymore, if you take the ‘coal backstop’ out,” said Ritchie, who is doing his Ph.D. work at UBC’s Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability.

Ritchie, a Ph.D. candidate in resources and the environment at the University of British Columbia, was working as a teaching assistant in 2013 and trying to come up with assignments for his students. Looking through “business as usual” and worst-case scenarios for the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, he saw that reliance on coal for energy started ramping up around 2040.

“Why is that?” he remembers asking himself.

The question evolved into his dissertation work—and to the most provocative conclusion of his study, published last month to little fanfare in the journal Energy Economics. Inflated coal estimates had become at some point “a virtually unlimited backstop supply [that] has misinformed a generation of long-term energy scenarios,” Ritchie and his co-author, UBC professor Hadi Dowlatabadi, write in their paper. The estimates reflected all geologically identified coal, not the fraction it may be possible to dig out.

In other words, Ritchie and Dowlatabadi found, there may not be enough accessible coal to fuel the worst-case scenario of global warming.

“For the past quarter-century, high emission baselines have been the focus of research, explicitly or implicitly shaping national policy benchmarks, such as estimates for the social cost of carbon,” the paper says, referring to the dollars-per-ton measure used by government and business to factor future climate damage into today’s spending.

That sentence flies pretty close to the white-hot center of the climate policy debate in Washington. Quantifying the “social cost of carbon” is an arduous process that has become a highly politicized issue. Steep costs from capping coal emissions have been baked into policy for years, “and realistically I don’t know if that can hold up anymore, if you take the ‘coal backstop’ out,” said Ritchie, who is doing his Ph.D. work at UBC’s Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability.

Reminder here:

Wall Street Journal:

Coal provides nearly one-quarter of the total energy consumed in the U.S., and by Mr. Warholic’s estimate, the country has enough in the ground to last about 240 years. A belief in this nearly boundless supply has led officials to dub the U.S. the “Saudi Arabia of Coal.”

But the estimate, recent findings show, may be wildly overconfident.

While there is almost certainly as much coal in the ground as Mr. Warholic’s Energy Information Administration believes, relatively little of it can be profitably extracted. Last year, the U.S. Geological Survey completed an extensive analysis of Wyoming’s Gillette coal field, the nation’s largest and most productive, and determined that less than 6% of the coal in its biggest beds could be mined profitably, even at prices higher than today’s.

“We really can’t say we’re the Saudi Arabia of coal anymore,” says Brenda Pierce, head of the USGS team that conducted the study.

 

 

 

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One Response to “The Coal Barons’ Fading Dreams”


  1. But don’t worry Australia has even more coal and they are going gangbusters to open it all up for mining, by fair means or foul


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