Future Coal Supplies - More, Not Less!

There has been a growing trend toward predicting an imminent peak to the production of coal. Just this last week Nature carried an article that précised Richard Heinberg’s recent book on Coal production, which I reviewed when it first came out. And while that was based, in turn, on David Rutledge’s application of Hubbert Linearization to coal production, (discussed here ) that underlying theme had also been picked up in an article in Energy by Tad Patzek. This latter paper had just come out when, at the beginning of last month, I gave a paper at the ASPO-USA meeting explaining why the approach was wrong. I did that with Kjell Aleklett sitting in the front row of the audience; his graduate student Mikael Höök had just presented a dissertation along the same lines.

Why am I so obdurate that this is wrong, in the face of such heavyweight opinion? Well let me run through the bones of my argument to explain why.

The most extreme of the positions on the imminent coal peak is that of Tad Patzek and Greg Croft. (Energy, Volume 35, Issue 8, August 2010, Pages 3109-3122) In that paper the authors had inserted a predictive graph on coal energy production rate, as follows:

From Patzek and Croft

As you may note, this suggests that we are right at that cusp of peak production and it is all downhill from here. With the major sources of energy for the planet currently coming from coal and oil, and with the recent comments both from the IEA and the Joint Services Command about the peaking of oil, that would transfer a lot of the load to natural gas, which is the third major source, according to the IEA. (And it should be noted that P&C did include the following from the IEA in their presentation.

IEA predictions of future energy supply sources (after P&G)

Gregor Macdonald at Seeking Alpha has recently highlighted the increasing world consumption of coal, which is rising much more rapidly than that of oil, which has almost stabilized. Much of that demand is coming from China, India and the growing economies of Asia.

Gregor MacDonald

Much of the argument however for peak in production begins with the decline in the production of British coal. Famously, before the first World War, Winston Churchill converted the British Navy from the use of coal to that of oil, despite the UK having, at that time, no known indigenous oil supply yet having plenty of coal. It was a decision followed by Navies around the world. Britain still had the coal, - there were other reasons for the change.

Following the Second World War Britain had to rely on coal as a domestic and industrial fuel, and, in 1947 it nationalized the mining industry. As a part of that process it carried out a detailed physical inventory of the coal reserves of the country. That inventory has been published, and can be summarized in this table:

(From Trueman)

In the post-war years British coal production peaked at about 220 million tons a year in 1955.

British coal levels (Source Open University )

Current demand, as you may note, is just over 50 million tons a year – which might suggest that the UK has about 900 years worth of coal available.

But that is apparently not the case. If you look at a couple of data points, the World Coal Outlook, and then the BP estimate of reserves for 2005, there is nowhere near that amount of coal in the reserve:

The story is told in the difference between the resource and the reserve. At the present time folk would have you believe that the UK has very little coal left (4.5 years according to the BP report, from 2005, which suggests that the country is only staving off running out, since it is using about a quarter of that a year, by relying on imports).

So where did the coal go? Did some evil Voldemort-type character sneak into the country over night and magic it away? No! As the World Coal study shows, the coal is still there. It is just that, at the present time, the coal is not economically mineable and so it is not considered a reserve. It is, however, physically, still there, and thus, is still shown in the first column as a resource. And as the price of oil rises and the price of alternate fuels rises, so more of that resource will become a reserve. As a single example there has been talk of putting a new underground mine in at Canonbie in Scotland as part of a long-term plan to supply the Longannet power station.

It is thought that deep seams run for miles underneath the Canonbie area and could yield 400 million tonnes of coal, enough to keep the Longannet power station going for the next 80 years.

You may note that the 400 million ton figure is twice the volume that BP considered the totality of the British Reserve in 2005.

The predictions of the imminent death of the Coal Industry are likely thus to be somewhat premature.

Now let me close by addressing two other points. One of the technical advances that moved so much of the British reserve into the resource column instead was that it became, with the advent of larger mining equipment, much cheaper and simpler to mine coal from the surface deposits of places such as Wyoming or Queensland, than it did to mine it from underground. When the basic technology is not much more complex than using larger and larger shovels to dig the coal out of the ground there is, as yet, no need for the more complex technologies that might, at greater expense, make more of the coal a reserve, rather than a resource. The world has more than enough coal, and coal producers that its price is largely kept down by competition. (Technology was the second part of my ASPO paper, though I will forego going down that part of the argument in this post).

Consider, for example, that until recently Botswana found that it was cheaper to buy the power that it needed from South Africa, rather than expand its own coal-fired power system. Then South Africa decided it needed that power itself and so Botswana was thrown back on its own resources. It is expanding its sole coal mine and installing additional power stations to raise generation from 120 MW to 820 MW. In the process they have established that the coal deposits in the country may well be up to 200 billion tons of coal. However, since there is not that much demand, as yet, and Botswana is a land-locked country only 17 billion tons are currently counted as a reserve. However there was a strong Chinese presence during my visit there, and the situation may therefore change.

I won’t comment much on the growth of coal in China, which is moving toward consuming about half the world’s production, Euan Mearns has just covered that in a much better way than I might. But I would add some thoughts to his post.

Firstly the Chinese have been building a lot of coal-fired power stations, and are unlikely to have built any of them without an assured supply of coal for each. Secondly this is not the only market for coal in China. I was in Qinghai province, over by Tibet. The province gets most of its power from hydro, but uses coal to power the brickworks that are ubiquitous in the region, as dwellings are being converted from mud-brick to fired brick.

China has a domestic problem to keep the many regions happy with the central government, and this is causing them to put in massive amounts of infrastructure to allow access to all regions of the country. It is at a scale much greater than that I have seen anywhere else, even in remote regions, such as some of those I travelled. Rail and truck transport of coal is not the only way it can be shipped. Coal pipelines are an alternate way of doing it, but oddly, whenever the technology reaches a point of serious discussion freight costs seem to reduce, at least temporarily. I do not see, therefore, that over the longer term, coal supply to the various power plants being as great an issue as others foresee.

My overall conclusion is, therefore, that there is plenty of coal. The price is kept down by its international availability, and because it is so ubiquitous I anticipate that as oil becomes more expensive, so the nations of the world will, increasingly move to using this as an available reserve

I have two comments to this.

First: I have a memory of reading some place that the UK still have 73% of its "OCIP" left in the ground. Yet the production is collapsing as the best pay loads have been digged out. What you write seems to be in line with this.

Second: This less economical coal must have a lower EROI. I claimed in another TOD thread that when the world runs out of cheap and easy fossile fuels, the energy output may decline, but the world will go after enery suplies it would previously not considered, and CO2 emissions will stay high. The worst of both worlds. Your article seems to support this statement also.

Technology improvements in mining and in power stations continually improve EROI and lowers carbon footprint per kWh. If you want to claim that coal EROI has lowered and carbon/kWh has increased over the decades, I think you need a more quantitative analysis to be able to convince.

Well yeah, if you need the actual numbers. However you don't need the numbers to know that a large high quality superficial reserve will have a higher EROI than a small, deep, low quality one. Sure the technology improves so that a field mined back in the 18:th century would have a much higher EROI if mined with todays technology. But the problem is you will need to continuly improve technology to outweigh the declining quality of the fields. How long can you do that? And how much more complex does the mining become?

It is not necessarily correct to state that underground coal seams are small, deep and low quality. Much of the coal is of a higher quality than some of the thicker, lower quality seams that are currently being mined in, for example, Wyoming. And some of the mines in the UK that might be re-opened are currently only "mothballed" instead of totally abandoned, so that, for example at it is possible to consider re-opening the Haworth mine. However I have also, in other posts, and venues pointed out that there are technologies that may not necessarily increase the cost of mining much, but would allow more productive underground operations. But those developments are precluded by the availability of low-cost surface-mined coal.

When a journalist says;

It is thought that deep seams run for miles underneath the Canonbie area and could yield...

Does that really mean that we should conclude;

The predictions of the imminent death of the Coal Industry are likely thus to be somewhat premature.

For a blog that prides itself in being leery of hollow, grandiose oil reserve estimates, I would think the same logic would apply to any energy source, especially a finite fuel such as coal.

Firstly the Chinese have been building a lot of coal-fired power stations, and are unlikely to have built any of them without an assured supply of coal for each.

There was a mad rush to build during the Bush administration (which China knew would turn a blind eye to climate negotiations), and to feed it's astounding growth. There's little evidence this was done in a manner in which the fuel supply was sustainable or even assured.

My overall conclusion is, therefore, that there is plenty of coal.

The topic of coal reserves is exceeding complex; a few anecdotes do not a world outlook remake.

However you don't need the numbers to know that a large high quality superficial reserve will have a higher EROI than a small, deep, low quality one.

Oh yes I do, if the former is harnessed with 1960-ies tech and the latter with 2010 tech.

But the problem is you will need to continuly improve technology to outweigh the declining quality of the fields. How long can you do that?

With 1947-ish technology, the coal reserves in the UK were catalogued at 46 billion tonnes. The EROI of this coal were deemed adequate then, and this has only improved with time. We don't need any more improvements for coal to be abundant and last us hundreds of years.

Nature will respond accordingly.

NASA climatologist James Hansen writes in his latest piece "Price of Change"

Chinese leadership can save humanity

We have seen only about half of the eventual global warming from CO2 already in the air. Global warming so far is equivalent to the earth having the sniffles. Pakistan's unusual floods, Moscow's record heat, South China's drought followed by flood.

Carbon dioxide amounts of 400 ppm expected in 2016 with current emissions will cause an eventual sea level rise of about 25 m. China's land area will shrink greatly, requiring about 250 million people to move inland.

How rapid ice sheets will collapse is uncertain. A sea level rise of 1 metre in 20 years has occurred in past ice sheet disintergrations. But the human made climate forcing is far greater and faster than past natural forcings

James Hansen: Storms of My Grandchildren

James Hansen seems to be right. The earth contains water enough for a 3 km thick global ocean, if the planets surface was smooth without mountains and continents and stuff. Condensate the entire atmosfhere, and you get 10 more meters. That means the air/water ratio is 1/300. On top of that, water has a heat capacity (Joules to heat one Kg of matter 1 Kelvin) many times higher than that of air. I dont have the numbers, but it is many many times. Multiply "many many" with 300, and you get how much more time it takes to heat up the entire ocean 1 degree than the entire atmosphere.

Bottom line is; when the atmosphere heats up (and it is in the atmosphere the climate CHANGE take place) the oceans lags behin very much. According to literature on the subject, the ocean is behaving climaticly according to the CO2 rates of the atmosphere in the late 1970ies. Wich means; if we stop emiting completely today, climate change will move on untill it have produced the changes we expect during the coming 30 years. Although those changes will be smeared out over centruies. And every barrel, cubic meter and ton of fossil stuff we burn up, buy us more of those future years of climate change.

The Pine Island and Thawite glaciers on the Antartic Peninsula is supposed to lose ice mass equivalent to 0.5 meter higher ocean levels based on the climate we have today. More heat will only accelerate that. This is not in the IPCC report.

And by the way, according to http://climate.nasa.gov/keyIndicators/ we passed 390 PPM CO2 this month.

'And by the way, according to http://climate.nasa.gov/keyIndicators/ we passed 390 PPM CO2 this month.'

Must be why the sprouts are growing so fast.

"We have seen only about half of the eventual global warming from CO2 already in the air. Global warming so far is equivalent to the earth having the sniffles. Pakistan's unusual floods, Moscow's record heat, South China's drought followed by flood."

Sniffles LOL.

As if disasters didn't happen before (The Ice Age anyone?)

The only thing that's recently changed is that now when natural disters happen
we always blame it on global warming while before we didn't.

Maybe someday global warming will affect the climate adversely, but claims that
it happening right now are just so much propaganda.

The world's science academies are really instruments of propaganda. That's what I noticed as well. PhD is the old latin spelling for propaganda expert.

Go to any university and what do so called science students study? I'll tell you: what is propaganda, how do we do propaganda, how to do propaganda mathematics, propaganda equasions, and finally how to find financing for propaganda when the serious organizations, like the fossil fuel industry, will only fund non-propaganda activities like lobbying.

To put the icing on the deep-fried dough, the course dealing with the last subject teaches only one thing: all the really big money can be had by serving the selfish interests of the Danish Windpower and Pastry Association.

Thanks, jmc1, smart guys like you are in short supply.

+1 for lovely satire and sarconol.

I really don't know why you two numbskulls (jmc1 and toilforoil) bothered writing your posts. Quite apart from the fact that they have no proper intellectual content to them, they are tantamount to simply saying "I don't believe in climate change and all that I need to do to convince people of that is to say that it isn't happening", or "all of the very large number of scientists involved in CC research are nothing more than propagandist shills".

Come on, if you really want to contribute to the debate rather than simply expose your lack of intellect, provide a reasoned argument supporting your views. Otherwise, as I said before, you really shouldn't bother wasting your time by writing such pointless and content-free posts. There is no way that they could convince anybody of anything because there just isn't any content to them.

It is, however, worth noting that the current global temperature has not reached the levels, nor had the impacts, that Dr Hansen's predictions from 1988 said that they would.

Ummm...HO, you sound a bit like Danny Yergin here when he constantly points to earlier predictions of peak oil being wrong.

And actually--while not every prediction held up(especially many regional ones--very tough to do well, even now)--for such an early study, it is remarkable in its accuracy in some areas, such as predicting greater temperature anomalies in the Arctic, which we have certainly seen.

Heading out: I did not bother to reply to the dimwits jmc1 and toilforoil but you should know better. Since 1988, a wealth of data was accumulated that improves past predictions but someone has to start with data available at that time.

Seconded in every part.

Truth about climate science is that the experts are guilty of systematicly underestimating the rate of climate change. A typical statement is "We expected this to happen, but not so fast". IPCC is one of the experts in this field. If you want to know what will happen with the climate, take the IPCC report, browse for their "worst case scenario" and asume it will be even worse.

Finding an individual who managed to overstate does not prove a trend. I am a christian biblical fundamentalist who is all science and therefore an evolutionist. Are all cbf's out there evolutionists? Can you even meassure the percentage?

We are alowed out own beliefs, but not our own facts. I was raised to become a young earth creationist but looked through that over the years. Now I'm all science. We can not be selective about wich branches of science we chose to subscribe to. (Personally I don't belive in photosyntesis, because it contradicts my political opinions on pet taxation).

Manmade global climate change is scientificly funded. The evidence for this is as strong, probably stronger, than those of evolution. For those of you who want to doubt climate science, I leaved a seat in the anti-science camp when I stoped beeing a creationist. You can have it.

(And please everyone, don't comment on my evolution ranting, I just brought it up as an example of anti-science, already on climate change we are off topic here.)

If China mines 50% of the worlds coal and peaks in production does that not mean the world peaks in production? Sort of like Saudi peaking in oil production.

The conclusion of the paper was that the 1990's observed results would help validate the model or show where it was deficient. The point was not to make the most accurate pinpoint predicition, but to help advance the science and to develop much better models based on what was observed to actually happen through the 90's. It might not have impacted you, but here in Australia we have just been through the worst drought on record. I don't care if it was from AGW or not, it still killed my lawn and that impacted me very deeply indeed.

I'll see you with the Bureau of Meteorology trend maps

I see a lot more red than blue. It's a right brain thing.

Is irony so lost on everyone here? about one in three of the posters below miss toilforoil's sarcasm

Irony is a very, very tough thing to carry off successfully online.

As far as I'm aware there isn't any evidence whatsoever that catastrophies are taking place at a level above the noise, certainly none that could be attributed to climate change, Lord Monckton gave a talk to do with this which you can watch on U-tube


Here is another presentation, the relevants slide is 29 and 30


Here's a Lindzen paper suggesting negative feedback (i.e. an increase in radiation emitted by the Earth for a 1 C temperature increase)


I don't whether there is negative feedback or not, I can't predict the future, but I don't think there is any evidence whatsoever that there has been an increase in disasters around the world due to climate change. If you have any evidence to suggest otherwise I would be happy to see it.

Although an indisputable increase in disasters above the statistical noise is *NOT* required to show a high probability of Climate Change *AND* only a low probability (say 5% to 20%) is required to justify massive changes in public policy and private behavior#, there is at least one statistical indicator that has risen above the noise level.

Category 5 hurricanes (i.e. Atlantic) are 3+ standard deviation phenomena . Under "normal" sea temperatures, only Cat 4 hurricanes can form. And even Cat 4s require "favorable" upper winds, warm waters, etc. Some anomaly is required to strengthen to a Cat 5.

There were 24 Cat 5s from 1902/1924 till 2002 (79/101 years). There were 8 Cat 5 hurricanes from 2003 to 2007 (5 years).

The ONLY year to have three Cat 5's was 2005.

Note that the passage of a hurricane reduces the water temperature and hence the potential strength of a following hurricane. 2005 was a 4+ standard deviation year in that there were a record number of hurricanes (each cooling the path of those that followed) AND over 10% of all Cat 5s from 1902 till 2004 also occurred in that one year.

The two weakest known hurricane years were 1907 and 1914. I think I see a trend.


# A 5% or so chance of nuclear war is enough risk to justify spending 11% of the GDP on defense, drafting all fit young men for two years, fighting "brushfire" wars, distorting the structure of society and even building an interstate highway system as a defense & evacuation system.

If one looks at the drought maps for the 2060s, or even the 2030s, and contemplates the long term impacts for the United States, quite frankly, a nuclear war that killed, say, half the population may be preferable. Once and done, then set about reorganizing and slowly, painfully rebuilding after a nuclear strike. Climate Change may well be a series of crippling body blows, and then lethal head shots in ever growing severity with no chance to recover.

And once the serious impacts of Climate Change start hitting, it will simply be too late. There is just too much inertia in the system.

"Although an indisputable increase in disasters above the statistical noise is *NOT* required to show a high probability of Climate Change *AND* only a low probability (say 5% to 20%) is required to justify massive changes in public policy and private behavior#, there is at least one statistical indicator that has risen above the noise level."

I agree a 5% to 20% probability is enough to justify massive changes in terms of risk management. I just wish people would stop lying about it being a certainty.

While some may be regard it as a "noble lie" to exagerrate our level of certainty that a climate catastrophe is imminent, if it prompts the global government to panic and engage in a massive geoengineering programme that pushes us into an ice, unqualify alarmist propaganda no longer seems quite so noble.

Its interesting that you mention increased incidences of catagory 5 hurricanes and droughts as the proof that climate change is happening now, as my links precisely deal with this issue and catagorically show this isn't the case. Maybe you show look at them.

The IPCC says only an "over 90%" probability of man made Climate Change, not certainty. So you appear to be attacking a straw man.

I personally believe that man made Climate Change is a virtual certainty. But like virtual sex, virtual certainty should not be confused with the real thing.

A well accepted statistical technique to extract valid information out of "noisy" data is to look for the frequency of extremes and apply a hypothesis test. Less sensitive statistical analysis can miss valid conclusions.

Another is to look for the year of the hottest and coldest months for a given location. If there is no warming trend, the two sets of data (hottest and coldest) should both be about random (statistical variance). Each month is not truly an independent variable (July and August 2010 are linked), but the effect is minimal. January 1940 and December 1940 are not directly linked.

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high
2007 1989 2007 1950 2007 1901 2010 2010 1890 1915 2010 2008 - 2010
Record low
1940 1929 1913 1879 1885 1916 1886 1885 1881 1960 1890 1940 - 1940

No numerical analysis is required to prove the hypothesis of a warming trend in Moscow, the data just requires a scan.

Data from 1879 I believe. Less systemic temperature data going back to 1750s or so.


Good written records from at least 1571 for Moscow and nothing like the summer of 2010 has been noted in any historical writings .


Sorry I couldn't help myself:

Washington DC:
"The highest recorded temperature was 106 °F (41 °C) on July 20, 1930, and August 6, 1918"



"The maximum recorded temperature was 45.3 °C (113.5 °F) on 14 January 1939 at the end of a four-day heatwave across Australia.[29]"

Buenos Aires
"The highest temperature ever recorded was 43.3 °C (109.9 °F) on 29 January 1957.[25"

"The lowest temperature ever recorded in central Buenos Aires (Buenos Aires Central Observatory) was −5.4 °C (22 °F) on 9 July 1918.[27] The last snowfall (see July 2007 Argentine winterstorm) occurred on 9 July 2007 when the entry of a massive polar cold snap made as a result the coldest winter of Argentina in almost thirty years, where severe snowfalls and blizzards hit the country. It was the first major snowfall in the city in almost 89 years [28] (since 22 June 1918[29]). On 17 July 2010 other massive polar entry to the country and made as result other cold winter, with a snowfall that hit almost all the country and in the south of the city of Buenos Aires it sees snow again, but not in the centre of the city like in 2007 or 1918."

The hottest month is July, with a mean temperature of 73.9 °F (23.3 °C). The coldest month is January, with a mean of 29.3 °F (−1.5 °C). Periods exceeding 90 °F (32 °C) in summer and below 10 °F (−12 °C) in winter are not uncommon but rarely extended, with about 14 days per year seeing the former extreme,[65] and the most recent subzero reading occurring on January 22, 2005.[66] Extremes have ranged from −18 to 104 °F (-28 to 40 °C), recorded on February 9, 1934 and July 4, 1911, respectively.[66]

And then on top of that there's the urban heat island effect which could be related to a built up area rather that CO2.

While I accept your statement that a 20% chance of climatic catastrophy is sufficient to take precautions I'd be curious as to the evidence as to why you think climate change is a virtual certainty.

In anycase this is a bit of a diversion and has nothing to do with my initial statement that there's no evidence at all that manmade climate change is currently causing disasters whether or not it will be responsible for them in the future. The only thing that's changed is that these days when disasters happen climate change gets blamed whereas previously it wasn't.

Single data points have almost no statistical value.

I offered 2 x (12 +1) data points, enough to derive statistically significant conclusions from


NASA_- 2009: Second Warmest Year on Record; End of Warmest Decade


Your most valid point was urban heat islands. I read the first article in Science about that (Paris, in late 1960s) and the effect was relatively small (about 1 degree). What is relevant with Moscow is how much change in the heat island effect has occurred over time. Moscow has been a big, major city for a very long time.


I have been interested in Moscow for some time, even before the 2010 heat wave, because:

- It is relatively high latitude and models predict greater impacts at higher latitudes
- It has good quality records for a very long time. The burning in 1571 does restrict the historical records somewhat.
- It is not affected by the vagaries of ocean currents. The fluctuations in currents add another level of complexity to an already noisy data set. (I would like to get Ulan Bator, Mongolia for much the same reason.

And one last quote

during the first half of the 20th century, Moscow experienced light frost during the late summer months



I found historical data for Washington DC (one of your picks)


Unlike Moscow, this is the year of the hottest and coldest day for each month. I decided not to even look at the data before posting, but just cut & pastend and then analyze whatever I see.

Jan 79°F (1950) -14°F (1881)
Feb 84°F (1930) -15°F (1899)
Mar 93°F (1907) 4°F (1873)
Apr 95°F (2002) 15°F (1923)
May 99°F (1991) 33°F (1906)
Jun 102°F (1874) 43°F (1897)
Jul 106°F (1930) 52°F (1933)
Aug 106°F (1918) 49°F (1986)
Sep 104°F (1881) 36°F (1904)
Oct 96°F (1941) 26°F (1917)
Nov 86°F (1974) 11°F (1929)
Dec 79°F (1998) -13°F (1880)

For the record lows, one in 1986, the next most recent was 1933. Five from 1800s.

For the record highs, two in 1800s (vs. 5 record lows), and three record highs since the most recent record low.

More statistically relevant, the average year for a high was 1941.33 and for a low 1910.67


Phenology probably offers the best case for climate change. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phenology.

IMHO, if we were to throw out all the temperature data we have we could build an even stronger case for climate change just by looking at the changes in growing seasons, migration patterns and dates, dates of first frosts, insect hatchings, the various dates buds appear in spring, etc. The data there is voluminous and tells a consistent story, world-wide.

And that would measure the real world impact, instead of a theoretical construct !

Good concept,


There is a saying if you torture statistics long enough you can prove anything. The hottest ever temperature of a particular location is a particular poor statistic to rely on. To hit your temperature you are going to require unusual climatic condition, wind from a hot location over a period weeks during the peak summer months of which ever hemisphere you happen to be in. Obviously if the climate changes these conditions will for some parts of the world be less likely and for some more likely, even if there is underlying increase in overall average temperature.

toilforoil - awesome response

toilforoil - awesome response

Absolutely, and as sarcastic as it was, the far right take it as truth. They really believe scientists with PHD's are concocting an intricate worldwide hoax to get more money for research so they can be on easy street. In other words they think they're lazy people spinning a yarn for their own angrandizement.

It is beyond comprehension just how inexhasutible the vacuum of ignorance can reach. Fox News can literally tell their viewers anything whatsoever and they will buy it hook line and sinker without every questioning it for a billionth of a second. Is a person that is so easily led really a human? Are they not some sub-species. Apparently they have no independent thought, so doesn't that suggest something like a lemming or a sheep?

Perk, while their posts were pretty lightweight, I recommend that you read Kuhn's on Scientific Revolution and consider that
Scientists with PHD's can have the same ethics as those found in the prisons of the US. Intelligence is different from character. I've lived in an Academic department in a Doctoral Granting Science School, it was good, but it was not perfect. I've been a co-PI for the NSF and DARPA and what Kuhn discusses in terms of the sociological aspects is very true all the way to the National Science Foundation. If you want further data in this area I suggest you read Mann of PSU's email concerning peer review, fascinating reading, many people consider him to be one of the most corrupt scientists in he state of Pennsylvania if not the US.

What always fascinates me in exercising my bias (or commitment) towards empiricism is the concept of measurement and repeatability (we'll ignore the importance of starting conditions for the purpose of this posting). My confidence in the "certainty" of the atmospheric sciences at times is decreased by the "bottoms up" style of "calculation" to arrive at carbon #'s (with various national
assumptions - ie non-uniformity) instead of instrumentation measurement, and a few other things. Now from this generalized lack
of instrumentation we then move to a theory of causality. Causality is really hard to establish, the level of certainty that is projected in this space from either side quite frankly is laughable. This is a very large scale system. So whether you believe that

a) the earth is steadily heating up
b) the earth has been steadily been heating up except for the last N years
c) the earth is not heating up
d) the earth is flat

Still begs the question of why - aka causality.

Approximately 0% of scientists who are familiar with Mann's work and knowledgeably enough to evaluate it think he is corrupt. Your statement is saying something quite definite about your ethics, something that you should be ashamed about.

That someone working on a topic as specialized as paleoclimate reconstruction should be harassed to the extent that he is reflects very poorly on the political and moral culture of the US.

BTW, causality is not an issue, the IR spectrum of CO2 has been measured very precisely, as has the spectrum of the sun.

I see the problem as the infantalization.
Civilization requires the domestication of humans.

Symptoms to look out for are
1 "Daddy will provide."
2 Bid-ability
3 Physical unfitness.
4 Inability to become an adult.(Domesticated animals breed before they mature)

Do not assume that Homo Domesticus is not dangerous. Think of pit bulls that are bred for aggression.

Does eugenetics work?
You betcha.
Here is a tried and tested method.
Only allow men to breed if they have killed.

Use the Propaganda Method established by Francis Bacon.

We start by making something up (call it a hypothesis).
Then we imagine how it could impact the coal and fossil fuel industry (the more impact the better)
Then we test the hypothesis with experiments based purely on propaganda
Then we determine what the results and conclusions are
Then propaganda is ready to be put into scientific journals reviewed by other scientists.
Then a group of scientists come together and reach a consensus opinion and maximize the blame that is thrown at coal and fossil fuels since scientists love to agree on everything ;-) especially when fossil fuel folks are on the other side.

really that is the greater conspiracy -- scientists are against fossil fuels -- cause the just don't like them.
It has nothing to do with actual measurements of glacier melts, global temps, north pole sea ice ... none of that stuff silly -- it is a conspiracy, purely.

((sarcasm off))

With all these posts, I think it's time we petition to change the name of the board to "The Climate Drum'.

I'd like to ban all discussions of anthropogenic climate change from TOD. These discussions do not belong here; they should be on realclimate.

Seconded, with the following amendment: discussions regarding CO2 emmissions as such still belong here.

I'd like to ban all talk about banning things

also, no one should use banner blockquotes

anyone caught doing this should be banned from this site

I'd like to ban all discussions of anthropogenic climate change from TOD.

If you were following the thread, the discussion regarding how much coal there really is, led to discussions about CO2 emissions. In other words, even if there is a whole lot more coal than some predict, is it wise to burn it with what we know now about AGW?

Eliminating discussions about AGW on TOD ignores the fact that FF usage and CO2 emissions are connected at the hip so to speak. Would we talk about horsepower without talking about torque?

I disagree.
The pressure cooker would explode in frustration.
How can fossil fuel be ring fenced?
The climate catastrophe will impact the economy which will impact the rate of extraction.

The issues are holistic.

King Coal has just claimed more victims in New Zealand. Is it not right that we should consider the moral virtues of coal versus say, Nuclear?

I'd like to ban all anthropogenic climate change from the planet.

There; that was easy, now wasn't it...

Problem is when you make a post they don't like on RealClimate, even if its phrased politely and purely drawing attention to evidence: They delete it.

I agree ... reason I stopped going to the other PO site.

I'd like to ban all discussions of anthropogenic climate change from TOD. These discussions do not belong here; they should be on realclimate.

I actually agree on this, despite talking climate change over here when it's raised. One advantage is that the "peanut gallery" at RC is a tough place where nonsense gets shredded.

Happy Thanksgiving.

That was cute of you to withdraw your 7:49 pm link to what you called "this example of finely crafted AGC propaganda":
A great example of the fact that yes, in the late 1970s, there was considerable talk about a coming ice age, i.e. the end of the interglacial. Things have of course changed since then, but the underlying principle of extrapolating every passing weather phenom to infinity has not. I doubt that the History Channel, in the 1970s, was in possession of a time-viewer to enable them to finely craft propaganda for the purpose of denying ACC/AGW in the 2010s. On the other hand, the great thing for conspiracy theorists (as well as Luddite "precaution"-ists) is that one can never quite prove a negative...

"The Myth of the 1970s Global Cooling Scientific Consensus."
Peterson et al, BAMS 2008.

The survey identified only 7 articles indicating cooling compared to 44 indicating warming. Those seven cooling articles garnered just 12% of the citations.

What goes on in the media does not necessarily reflect what the scientists are actually publishing.

Given that even a cursory examination of Fig. 1 reveals that global cooling was never more than a minor aspect of the scientific climate change literature of the era, let alone the scientific consensus, it is worth examining the ways in which the global cooling myth persists.

One involves the simple misquoting of the literature....

And the evidence for current climate change and the likely form of future change isn't just a matter of projection of trends, it's established physics.

I don't know where you're getting your information from but take it back to them and complain...

they're selling you garbage.

There is a great TV clip from the 1950's about the possibility of global warming. Some science show. EVERYTHING has been predicted.

"1)The world's science academies are really instruments of propaganda. That's what I noticed as well. PhD is the old latin spelling for propaganda expert.

2)Go to any university and what do so called science students study? I'll tell you: what is propaganda, how do we do propaganda, how to do propaganda mathematics, propaganda equasions, and finally how to find financing for propaganda when the serious organizations, like the fossil fuel industry, will only fund non-propaganda activities like lobbying."


1) I wouldn't put it quite that strongly, there are good scientists out there, but there is intense pressure for funding, and when funding for science depends on your political views or ideological position, that's when science starts to drift away from being evidence based (i.e. scientific) and starts becoming just so much politics. When the maths are clear and the result our obvious, then scientists tend to remain objective, but the more free parameters you add and the more intractably complex the problem becomes the more scope there is for subjective interpretation of the data (rather like saying random ink blots are a picture of a butterfly). When funding doesn't depend on politics it remains more objective.

2) I would strongly disagree with that statement, I have studied Physics in university and that wasn't what we learnt, we didn't learn anything about about applying for funding, we just learnt Physics. In fact I would say that Physics and engineering are the disciplines least affected by propaganda.

What you say here applies more to the arts department
I do have friends who have studied sociology and English and I have been reliably informed that these discipline are thoroughly drenched in politics and propaganda. The examination system (which in the case of both English and Sociology marking is highly subjective ) is one of the most insidious ways I can think of to influence peoples opinions.... when someone voices an opinion you approve of... give them a high mark... when they say something you disapprove of... give them a low mark. Gradually from a process of pavlovian learning they will begin to voice views that progressively align more closely with that of the marker. And the most insidious thing about it is, because the marker hasn't told them what to think, but rather just marked them on what them though, the students will think that the ideas and opinions they express that gets them high marks are their own, when in actual fact they are the ideas of the person doling out the marks.

I can assure you though that in science, marking is alot more objective, its just a question of doing the math right.

For scientists, the process of propaganda begins in the work place and the research stage through the allocation of funding, not in universities.

FFS, people!

Can we no longer as a species recognize blatant, dripping sarcasm? Is there no level of sarcastic remark so obvious that it doesn't require sarcasm tags? I know this is the internet, but come on.

Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit.

And besides there are a lot of wackos on the internet with very strange opinions, you really have to read a number of posts by the same person before you can be sure whether or not their being sarcastic.

I respectfully disagree.

Puns are truly the lowest form of wit, and physical humor certainly ranks lower than sarcasm.

My favorite Mardi Gras krewe parades are the sarcastic/satirical ones. Corpse of Engineers, Compassionate Conservatives, etc.

For scientists, the process of propaganda begins in the work place and the research stage through the allocation of funding, not in universities.

If only it were limited to this... Unfortunately, masters and PhD students are even more beholden to the funding allocation system than tenured professors. Generally, the thesis/masters topics that continue are the ones for which the thesis advisor can find funding for related work to pay the student's tuition. I was in the somewhat fortunate position that I was working as a university staff position while working on my PhD, so I brought my own funding, and was not beholden to an advisor's idea of what was a good project. I was also attempting to write funding proposals at the same time.. and having a quite difficult time of it because I didn't have the letters yet.

I often found myself asking why was I writing a thesis when I could be writing a business plan, and when the funding for the staff position ran out (because I was not successful in understanding the politics to get research funding), I ended up going to the energy-start up and farming route.

If scientists want to be taken seriously, and not as instruments of propaganda, then they will need to apply double blind principles to research funding for projects. This concept needs to be applied to the funding source before we can really take scientific studies, especially those that rely on complex computer codes or simulations seriously. For instance, if you know your funding for biofuels comes from BP, or your funding for bio-synfuels comes from ConocoPhillips, then you'll tend to promote large-scale biorefineries that will benefit the oil majors, instead of smaller-scale distributed processing that might be more sustainable, both from a capital investment point of view, and environmental.

Irony is a very, very tough thing to carry off successfully online. Most people won't understand...

As if disasters didn't happen before (The Ice Age anyone?)
How true. Silly us, disasters happen (and people die). We may or may not be among those dying earlier than expected, but hey disasters happen, so if you are on an island being covered up by water and no country will take you in, just stuff your feelings and die without bothering to alert the world that its coastal cities might be next. Just a disaster.

Of course no human caused the ice age, but civilized industrial civilization is causing Global Warming and the attendant disasters.

Try this argument out instead - some humans lived without ever burning fossil fuels. Since they could do it so can we. Even if you won't allow for human generated CO2 as the cause for warming (which is clearly happening - http://www.livescience.com/php/multimedia/imagegallery/igviewer.php?imgi...), allow that it might and since clearly humans have lived before without fossil fuels they can again. Why take chances with the future of the planet as if no human can live without burning fossil fuels.

As if humans have never lived without fossil fuels (last Ice Age anyone?)

You may be correct that there's more coal available. But, that's a problem in itself, as the CO2 emissions will add another massive problem. If most of the new sources and consumers are in developing nations, it's highly unlikely that there will be any serious effort to capture the CO2 emissions and sequester them away from the atmosphere. Again today, we are reminded of China's position regarding emissions.

Despite China’s growth, Mr. Xie said it remains a developing country and couldn’t be treated like the United States or European countries with respect to climate change. “We will never accept anything beyond our condition as a developing country,” he said.

It's been suggested that Peak Coal and Peak oil will solve the problem of Global Warming, since it would be difficult to meet the emissions scenarios used by the IPCC. Your report suggests that the IPCC scenarios may prove the case and mankind will suffer from the resulting changes in climate...

E. Swanson

I truly hope that you are wrong, profoundly so.

Not only will we disrupt our weather patterns dramatically# but we will add massive quantities of mercury and other toxins into the biosphere.

Best Hopes for Less Coal,

PS: It would have been Harry Potter that would have removed UK coal resources/reserves. Voldemort would have increased them and made them more accessible to the muggles. And then laughed with glee as they dug them up and burned the coal.

# There is a significant chance (perhaps in the range of 20% given the fact that we have never run this experiment before) of a DustBowl from California to Kansas. I have seen the loess (windblown dust) deposits in Mississippi from the last such event (between 2 and 3 meters thick on a cliff on the Natchez Trace) and this suggests the habitability of the rest of the USA would be severely impaired.

More coal? Less coal? Matters not. I've reached the uncomfortable conclusion that there is plenty of stuff left to burn to accomplish humanity's dirty deed of making the biosphere unfriendly for most species living today. We humans will keep burning stuff until we can't.

Not sure the loess discussion is correct as this dust deposit formed during the last ice age!

It was also the last Hyper-Dust Bowl.

One can have severe droughts without Dust Bowls. Human cultivation was a critical part of the cause of the 1930's Dust Bowl. And we continue to cultivate..

A shift in rain patterns (connected to open summer seas in the Arctic, among other factors) leads to drying of the "Cotton Belt" of the USA (the areas/latitude where cotton can be grown, from California to Georgia). Add disturbed surfaces plus wind to prolonged, severe drought and a Dust Bowl is the likely result.

Dust storms capable of depositing the depth of loess I saw (even if over 1,000s of years) suggest quite terrible dust storms, with negative health, economic, infrastructure and other impacts).

Best Hopes for Less Coal,


Alas, I fear that Heading Out is entirely correct. I foresee a time twenty or thirty years in the future when steamships go back to coal-fired boilers.

If and only if your rail electrification proposals are implemented within twenty or thirty years we can avoid a return to coal-fired steam locomotives forced by economics and an increasing scarcity and very high and rising prices for oil.

By the way, I'm putting the science-fiction story with you as hero on the front burner. Now I think I'll leave your age and infirmities as is; in return for this you get to live to age 100 with all your marbles. The problem is that some young readers have trouble identifying with a hero who is 85 or 90 years old. On the other hand, Robert Heinlein had some very attractive heroes (e.g. Lazarus Long) who were hundreds or thousands of years old.

If you go back to the Medieval Warming Period when temperatures last were about this level, it was so dry in parts of California that trees grew where there now are lakes and rivers. But not all lands get treated equally, that period saw the rise of the Indian cultures just east of St Louis in Illinois, and in a modern version there have been record crops in the countries south of the Sahara (the Sahel).

Ghung: At his blog Stuart Staniford has posted about subjects such as Drought Projections for the globe, you might take an interest. In the last month he's put up a lot of info on the Palmer Drought Severity Index.

Alan: that loess was blown in off the Laurentide ice sheet. If you have a mass of frozen water covering both Hudson's Bay and the Great Lakes you have plenty to worry about besides blowing dust! We have much the same type of deposits around here in the form of the Portland Hills Silt. Makes for good farming. My link suggests that 1 inch/year would suffice over 7k years to provide the deposits at Natchez, and also notes that that was about the same rate as obtained in 1935, so my supposition that an ice sheet is necessary for a sustained dust bowl is just a hunch. This abstract mentions a study that showed 60% higher dust accumulation in the Red Sea during glacial periods, vs non-glacial.

Your link is frightening.





White, purple and darkest red areas of USA would be basically uninhabitable, and no row crops in most of the red areas (unless irrigated, but irrigated with what ?).

Note that is color is a function vs. normal weather. A medium red Louisiana would be wetter than a green Arizona and dry weather crops could still grow in severe drought conditions in Louisiana.

Even a 20% risk of this happening is clearly unacceptable ! Nuclear war would hardly be worse.

Best Hopes for Slowing this down,


I have long supposed (and read) that the 1930s Dust Bowl would not have happened without plowed land and clearing. Thus major droughts in temperate climates need not lead to major Dust Bowl events absent agricultural man. However, humanity is present and I suspect that another major drought in a farming area will result in another Dust Bowl. No Ice Age required.

Watch the wet bulb temperatures.
The human body cools by evaporation.
If the wet bulb temperature climbs above 310.2 Kelvin then there is no way for it to maintain homeostasis and dies.
(unless one has access to air conditioning....No problem there)

Expect to see killer days when vast swaths of humanity die.
Nothing subtle there.

One past (fairly recent) issue of National Geographic, "The Drying of the West" (with excellent aerial photography by Vincent Laforet) discussed how that it just so happens that the settling of the West has occurred, as evidenced in the ring-record provided by millenia old Junipers still alive on canyon walls, at what is apparently the wettest cyclic period in many centuries. In short, the expected amount of water one might expect out of the Colorado River, for one, is going to drop many-fold - anyway - as we return to the "norm" which, relative to the last one and one-half centuries, is pretty damn dry. More-so, the Anasazi Pueblo Indian's vanishing coincides with one of the more dry periods shown by the ring-record. It's a fascinating read, that's for certain. (Interestingly, Phoenix is pretty well off due to the underground Salt river, or whatever it was.)

The upshot appears to be that lakes Mead and Powell will not fill again for a few hundred years, and will probably become mostly empty; and if Southern California's banking on Hoover's electricity, they're in for a big surprise. If I lived in LV or LA, I'd be getting the hell out. Now.

I am one of those who has sought to ensure that when folk face a cold winter, such as that now starting to hit the UK that there is enough heat and light available for them to be able to survive. Unfortunately those folk cannot, overnight, all migrate down to the warmer temperatures of New Orleans. And if the fuel providing that heat and light was switched off tonight there would be a lot of dead muggles tomorrow - so I am afraid that is more something that Voldemort and his crowd would delight in, rather than the muggle-defenders of Hogwarts.

It is interesting how often those of use who have to address such issues (and developing the technologies that support them) are portrayed as some great evil. From Tolkien on those of us who have developed technology and industrialization have been the evil folks that must be defeated by those who advocate the bucolic, pleasant, peasant existence of the Middle Ages that never actually existed.

Note that in classical science fiction the hero was usually an engineer. (For example, see the back issues of "Astounding/Analog" science fiction magazine from 1930 to current date.)

Fantasy is the diametrical opposite of science fiction. In fantasy, magic works, and the villains are sometimes evil scientists or evil engineers--especially mining engineers!

You're right - I hadn't noticed how my reading patterns had changed over the years - but yes, I do read more fantasy now.

If those muggles migrated to New Orleans, and they did not have electricity to run A/C next summer, a lot of them would be also be dead. Recall what happened in Western Europe a few years ago - and in that "heat wave", the heat index in many places did not even approach what is perfectly normal in New Orleans.

There is no such thing as zero impact: you can't get out of the game.

I remember a winter a few years ago when Germany experienced temperatures perfectly normal to Sweden. 200 died. I assume camels don't like the climate on Greenland either.

I would instead disregard "camels" and observe that those living in New Orleans are of the same species as those living in Sweden or Britain or Germany, inasmuch as there is not one shred of evidence to the contrary. Therefore we find a lot of A/C use in New Orleans, and a lot of heating use in Sweden or Britain or Germany (and in all those places a lack of capability to deal with unusual extremes.) The use of heating in cold regions has gone on for millennia, and one can rest assured that the sole reason A/C wasn't used in hot regions was that it hadn't been invented yet.

Unless we become able somehow to cram most of humanity into those tiny, scattered coastal regions that have fairly equable year-round climates, or we become willing somehow to let a lot of people die for the sake of a few polar bears, I really just don't see how this changes in any kind of voluntary manner. Vide the recent U.S. election. Politicians, especially the flamboyantly self-righteous European variety, will continue to preen and posture, and will even spend great gobs of money. But for the time being, that is still producing only an immeasurably small effect on the general outcome. (It would be wise, therefore, to engage researchers to investigate seriously how to cope with reasonably-possible outcomes this all may engender, no matter how much such a thing might offend a few ultra-idealistic wand-waving purists...)

Politicians, especially the flamboyantly self-righteous European variety, will continue to preen and posture, and will even spend great gobs of money.

I say, steady on old chap.

Dimitry Orlov has an interesting post today that expands on this topic.

I do believe that European have earned the right to be self-rightous.

Americans, I have some bad news for you:

You have the worst quality of life in the developed world—by a wide margin.

If you had any idea of how people really lived in Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and many parts of Asia, you’d be rioting in the streets calling for a better life. In fact, the average Australian or Singaporean taxi driver has a much better standard of living than the typical American white-collar worker.

Orlov is almost always interesting. Like Kunstler, he can be an entertaining writer. But on the other hand, I doubt that the talkative taxi drivers I tend to encounter when I visit New York would last long in stuffy, censorious Singapore, even though the subway in Singapore cleaner. Nor am I seeing any great trend among people who go overseas for extended periods (to teach English, on business, whatever) to pull up stakes permanently and stay there (sure, one can always find a few; so what?) Nor is it obvious to me that, say, the hot, stuffy, cramped garrets of Paris are pleasant places to live, especially in July. Nor is it even obvious that one would be at less risk of arbitrary police action in many of the places he names.

And despite his whining about food, let's not talk about downmarket European food. I never knew it was possible to create food more wretchedly plastic than Marc's Big Boy until I was visiting somebody in Belgium and, being in a hurry, we stopped off at, IIRC, an "A-C Restaurant". Let's not talk about undrinkable downmarket European plonk. Oh, and for sure, let's not even think about what's in a lot of that produce imported from Africa. Please.

[BTW, you chose not to dispute my main points. Obviously I would agree with that choice.]

My Bad.
One must remember not to provoke a patriot.

Gilbert and Sullivan. He remains and Englishman.

HO - A side note: speaking of keeping our Brit cousins warm did you see the report the other day: A tanker of LNG departed coastal Texas destined for England. Just another indication of how cheap NG is in the US today. Have heard that liquaficaion and transport runs around $4/mcf. With NG running less than $4/mcf on the coast then you might be getting that LNG delivered for around $8/mcf. Any idea how that might compare to other current wholesale sourse on your side of the pond?

Wholesale about £0.5 per therm (latest 7 day average according to National Grid data). One therm is 100,000 BTUs so that's 5 quid per million BTUs. Which is $8 per million BTU - about double the current US wholesale price.

Now I remember why I like the metric system.

Until I start using it. Then I still like it but not quite as much. Is wind speed in meters/sec or km/hour? Is barometric pressure in hectopascals, kilopascals, or maybe even mm of mercury? Is rainfall in mm or cm? Is car-fuel mileage in kg/km, liters/km, km/liter, km/Mjoule, or what? Who knows, depends on who you ask.

Wind speed is m/s. If people use otherways, educate them. mm Mercury is not a metric unit and should never be used.. Regarding hecto- or kilo- pascals, it does not matter, the metric system is built like that. There is only one pressure unit - pascal. Hecto means "100 of those" and kilo means "1000 of those". BTW, my grandfather is 0.92 hekto-years old. The same goes for rainfal; we only have the meter. mm/year is the prefered unit for rainfall. Even in extreme tropical places with 20 000 mm/year. Car milage is Km/litre.

The trick is to get used to the decimal system. Think of it like your american dollar. It has 100 cents in it. Everything in the metric system is decimal. We just have words like terra, piko and deka to name how we multiply or divide with 10 this or that many times.

The thing I don't like with the metric is we still use Celsius for heat, we should switch to Kelvin.

Altitude, Elevation...it's all the same.

The trick is to get used to the decimal system.

Yes, yes, I know.

If people use otherways, educate them.

Tell that to the world's various meteo services, for one. I was just snarking a bit about all the moaning over units, given the dodgy level of standardization in the real world. Actually, now that I think about it, I feel like snarking a bit more. In the context of mileage, km/litre is not a metric unit except in a sense that is at once preciously pedantic and a bit ridiculous. A km is a real unit, but per litre of what? Neither "diesel" nor "petrol" is or has ever been an SI unit as far as I can determine. And why not per kg? After all, Europeans sometimes tell us that they find the American custom of measuring out food ingredients by volume to be strange; why should this principle not apply to fuel? Might just as well say miles per gallon - in either case it's an arbitrary unit suitable only for ratiometric comparison; in neither case does it trace back to anything fundamental by way of that handy decimal system.

I might also have snarked on a bit about the ridiculous obfuscatory scholasticism built into the system by assigning an arbitrary name to every conceivable combination of basic units, as if the primary goal were to construct a vast, infinitely extensible, infinitely pointless exercise in memorization-for-its-own-sake. Just for starters: really, the world, except for its most absurdly pedantic citizens, did not ever need "Hz" for "c/s", cycle per second.

> Just for starters: really, the world, except for its most absurdly pedantic citizens, did not ever need "Hz" for "c/s", cycle per second.

Nor "Pa" (pascal) for "N/m²". Nor, in fact, "N" (newton) for "kg·m/s²", "J" (joule) for "kg·m²/s²", etc.

Nor "Ohm" for "kg·m²/(s³·A²)", "Farad" for "A·s/V", etc., etc., etc.

It's the way the physical science disciplines honour their pioneers. If you don't like it, develop your own system of units. The rest of us will remember and give thanks.

The litre is one cubic dm, and hence a metric unit. Originally it was off by a raction of a percent but have since then been standardized.

The only measurements for fuel efficiency on cars I have ever seen is distance / volume. And the only one of those I've seen is km/litre and mile/gallon. The first one is metric, the other one is not.

Why not mass instead of volume? If I where a chemist I'd like to know the mass. Given in mol. But when I fill up my car (hypotetichal example, I don't even have a license) I think in volume. After all, do you know the mass capacity of the tank of your car? Or do you know the volume capacity? People use volume because it is practical.

Speaking of wich; I get the donkers every time someone talks about crude oil in tonnes. I don't know how much a ton of crude oil is. Use barrels, but preferably we should use cubic metres. A ton of crude oil tells me just as much as furlogs per square fathom.

Regarding the names of units; they are just NAMES. It is much easier to say that my capacitor is of so many milli-Henry than explaining how it works every time I wanna say how it performs. That is what the formulas does, they explain how we reached the conclution. The name is just a time saver.

And if you don't like to have to remember stuff, then tell me again; how many inches is there in a mile? I know how many cm there is in a Km.

Your inductor is so many milli-Henrys. Your capacitor is so many farads.

A ton of water is a cubic meter. Crude oil will vary in density. With regard to desalinating water, they can talk about liters of water or tons of water or cubic meters of water and it converts one to the other in my head. An acre-feet of water is... I have no clue. How many gallons in an acre-feet?

Airplanes are filled with pounds of fuel...because in aviation, weight and balance matters!

IIRC, JP-8 is between 6.5-6.7 pounds per gallon.

Fuel expands when it warms.

We talked bout our 'mileage' in thousands of pounds burned per hour.

in a certain airplane, all engines turning at idle on the ground burned several thousand pounds per hour.

Thanks Tow. Sounds like we have a place to dump our NG especially if the Brits have a very cold winter. Now I wonder what the LNG tanker market is like: even if there's good economics can we still ship a meaningful amount of NG across the pond? I have some doubt.

Peasants' existence in the Middle Ages was actually quite a bit better than their counterparts in the early industrial age. Their normal diet was quite a bit better than that of most of the poor in industrial societies today. It was by no means free of troubles, but then neither is the life of the average debt slave today.

Are you romanticizing the present?

Judging by heights at adult death, Medieval peasants were worse off than were proletarians in the early stages of the British Industrial Revolution.

The really tall ones were Paleolithic hunters and gatherers--almost (but not quite) as tall as people are now averaging in the Netherlands. A diet of berries, tubers, misc. plants and meat is a very healthy diet. My guess is that the guy who wrote THE PALEOLITHIC DIET was onto something true, valid, and relevant.

Yes, the hunter-gatherers had much better health (when they weren't gored by some wild animal) than the average agriculturalist.

But health of the average worker in the immediately pre-industrial period in England and the Netherlands, at least, seems to have been quite good, probably a bit better than the average industrial worker in early industrial period. Their relatively good life style may have been part of why industrialization started in these areas rather than elsewhere.


Thanks for the link. Physical anthropology is one of my big hobbies.

You're welcome. Don't get me wrong. I don't claim that the Middle Ages was any paradise for anyone. But early on industrialists started characterizing it in un-historically negative terms to prop up the value of industrialism. Some of the improvement in modern health came about through better understanding of nutrition and health. More representative forms of government likely also improved lives in many ways.

But to say or imply that everything before industrialism was irremediably bad and everything after it unquestionably better is, I would claim, its own kind of romanticism.

Some Europeans had it a bit better off than others since they had access to commons (until those were enclosed) and a variety of wild or semi wild plants and animals that they could hunt or poach. So in a sense, they could still take advantages of some small elements of the superior paleolithic diet. Chinese had much less if any access to such sources of nutrition. But most peasants everywhere (which means most of the worlds population up to a few decades ago) mostly eat an essentially vegetarian diet.

My father was born in 1896 into a poor American family of eleven children; he grew to 5'3".
I was born in 1940 and grew to a height of 5'9".
My son was born in 1978 and grew to 6'4". A thirteen inch gain in height in three generations. These data suggest three things to me:
1. Men in my family tend to marry tall women.
2. Standards of living in the U.S. have risen enormously since 1896.
3. My family has been upwardly mobile. Higher classes are taller than lower social classes.

Great points, especially the last.

Unfortunately, the diabetes epidemic (and of course other looming crises much discussed here) mean that going forward, few families will see this kind of improvement in height or life style.

A side point. There is a rising interest in measuring people actual reported happiness rather than just assuming a particular economic system or status makes people happy.

Beyond a fairly low level (about $10,000/year) income improvements don't seem to have a very large impact on improved happiness in any of the societies studied.

The one thing that corresponds strongly with a great DECREASE in happiness everywhere in the world is homelessness. This has been on the rise in the US since the 80's and has, of course, increased greatly here recently.

We can't take happiness surveys of Medieval peasants, but most of them, especially first sons, could be fairly sure that they would be able to stay on the land that their parents tilled, even if they didn't own it. (On the other hand, third and fourth...sons might well be out of luck. And of course, once enclosure got going, many were displaced to the city or the New World.)

Most Medieval peasants were serfs. To a large extent, their well-being depended on their Lord and Master--and especially on the level of taxation. For example, high taxes during the Hundred Years War took a horrific toll on peasants in France. You can see this in the height records before, during, and after the Hundred Years War. Taxation killed more peasants by far than the War ever did.

One thing I like about Medieval warfare was that (at least in France, not so in England) was that it was fought mainly by the upper class--heavily armored knights and lords riding horses that also wore armor. Of course, the English longbowmen decisively defeated the French knights in battle after battle--until Joan of Arc.

Yep, that's when taxes really were an instrument of oppression--no even pretense of any of it going to help the taxed. It all went to war games of the rich. (It could hardly be claimed that the nobles were protecting the serfs from the opposing power, since their lot would be just as bad/good under any new rulers.)

It is ironic to me that certain species of conservative is adamantly opposed to all taxes while being unquestioningly supportive of military spending, arguably the kind of spending least likely to improve the lot of the taxed.

The left certainly has its share of idiocies and inconsistencies, but this is one from the other side of the political spectrum that I could never completely understand.

I don't see that the peasants had anything worth taxing.
They had the Church tithe, a head tax caused the Peasant War of 1381, the inheritence tax comes down from the Romans and there were various property taxes such as the Danegeld, as well as taxes on windows or hearths and ploughs.
Then also there were head taxes for Jews.

I doubt that taxation killed many peasants as the wages were ridiculously low--they made like 4d(4 pennies)per day-1/3rd of a shilling; there was literally nothing to tax.
Almost all their income went for buying food--if you taxed them they'd all die and who'd do the work?

Property taxes(Danegeld) were based on the Doomsday Book
at 2 shillings per 100 acres.

The French peasants (and most other serfs, right into the nineteenth century in Russia) paid in kind. In other words, the lord got half or more what the peasants grew. Mass starvation among serfs was by no means rare on the continent. In Britain the taxes on serfs were no where near what they were in France--or Russia, for that matter.

I think before 1865 (coincidence?) most Russian serfs were the property of the estate owners. Hence they couldn't be "taxed" because they didn't own anything.

Most Medieval peasants were serfs.

If you take "medieval" as the years roughly 500 to 1500, it would be a hard thing to say that most peasants were serfs. In the first part it was probably very few, gradually taking hold to peak during the "dark ages", maybe around the mid-point. After that the general theme was increasing prosperity and stability leading to decreasing serfdom, as the primary motives of security against war and famine diminished. After the Black Death labor shortages pretty much ended serfdom throughout Europe, as any bound serf could just leave and go get a job if he wanted.

Medieval warfare was [...] fought mainly by the upper class--heavily armored knights and lords riding horses

That's another difficult generality...it may be so in the movies, and there were certainly knights trotting around the battles, but foot-soldiers may well have outnumbered mounted knights more often than not. Typically they were the numerous front line expendables, despised enough to gain little recognition in the glorious histories.

By repeatedly changing the subject in mid-thought, are you trying to bamboozle us into thinking that present-day UK life is just like the early industrial age? Really? Or that the short, brutish, miserable life of a medieval peasant is to be desired merely because their bread was coarse?

No, I'd expect that most sane people confronted with a thirty-to-forty year life span, with their entire adulthood utterly wasted on the most exhausting, mind-numbing, boring toil imaginable, would exchange that in a heartbeat for a long life so comfortable that they actually have time for precious worrying about whether they might possibly get diabetes at age 75...

Well, we have all pretty much drunk the kool-aide so, yes, most would hold on to their pop-tarts with fiendish intensity. Completely enmeshed in industrial ideology as we are, we (rather bizarrely) have to see all pre-industrial work as "exhausting, mind-numbing, boring..."

But compare a traditional craftsman's work to to that of a worker on an assembly line. Why is it that we all are required to see the formers work as boring, though it involved a wide range of skills applied in a new way with each task. But some how it escapes us that the average factory workers job is infinitely more boring and 'mind-numbing' repeating the exact same operation over and over again, every day for decades. What could be more dehumanizing?

In some societies, especially along the Baltic Sea, most "boring" tasks were done in groups and were accompanied by song. There are about a million such songs or 'dainas' collected from Lithuania alone. I have not heard of singing being a major component of factory work.


There are vast differences across time, place and social position of course. Most of what made the worst off populations lives so hard, though was the taxation by kings, tithing by church, and extortion by thugs--er, knights. Not to mention the wars perpetrated by the same.

When these oppressive systems were absent or ineffectually enforced (as was often the case), peasants' fortunes improved considerably.

(Outlawry against King John became heroized in the stories of Robin Hood, not because he was particularly brutal (King Stephen was far worse) but because he did his job too well, collecting the taxes by the book.)

With real democracy (see Amartya Sen on this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amartya_Sen) and access to very basic health care, a 'peasant's' life is not nearly so burdensome as industrial mythology would have you believe. And they have the advantage (if they keep their numbers in check) of not living a lifestyle that deprives future generations of a similarly fulfilling lifestyle.

Read a bit about Kerala for a modern example (of course, not a utopia or absolutely self-sufficient, but not the absolute hell industrial mythologists would suggest).

Here's a nice link on Kerala. http://culturechange.org/issue8/kerala.htm

My favorite quote:

People here are generally happier and more secure than North Americans. That must be admitted, even if a gringo sucking the corporate teat would laugh at the idea of a comparable standard of living with a fisherman wearing just a skirt, putting his primitive kayak into turquoise waters. But, hey, this Keralite happens to enjoy a better literacy rate than does Joe America, has a comparable life-expectancy, and owns his little coconut patch and pulls in the bounty of the sea or backwater lagoons.

(my emphases)

The myth of the happy resident of Kerala keeps popping up every few years on TOD. Kerala and other south Indian states have the highest suicide rate in the whole world. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2802372/)

Kerala also sends a very large number of people to work abroad or in other Indian states. It has one of the highest emigration rates in India. The economy of Kerala to a large extent depends on the money sent by migrants from abroad. If things are so wonderful in Kerala why do they leave in large numbers?

Incidentally there are few Keralites who own a patch of land. The population density is very high and there is not enough land for everyone.

They are poor but their girls go to school. This keeps down fertility to about 1.5 per woman. With no imigraton, they are bound to lose poulation, wich will over time set free land for people to own. Lets just hope climate change don't play them a trick once they get there.

Su- (or, given your rather negative attitude here, should it be dus-?) yog, your comments are non-sequiturs. As you point out, the suicide rate is shared with other Dravidian cultures of the south, so it is a cultural artifact that has no particular reflection on the economy or politics. Scandinavian countries also have relatively high suicide rates. Would you thereby judge their economies to be basket cases?

The real problem with suicide is that so many cultures have such strong taboos against it.

A population as well educated as those in Kerala doubtless have many more opportunities to market their skills elsewhere than do those from areas with less widespread and effective education.

I get a sense that you have something against this region. Do you have some kind of regional bias here? Or are you upset that communists (among others) have been so successful here, where capitalists elsewhere have failed? From what part of India do you hail?

Scandinavia does not have a high age-adjusted suicide rate. Their populations are relatively old including fairly large number of poeple over age 85. Very old people everywhere tend to get depressed and kill themselves. The Japanese also have high crude rates of suicide, but once you correct for age distribution it is not terribly high. Of course, in Japan suicide is often done to maintain honor; it is not considered a sin, as it is in Christian countries.

Thanks for the correction. But note that, while Sweden is in the top ten countries for oldest population, Denmark and Finland are not, even though they are in the top ranks for suicide rates. Age explains some but not all of the behavior (as you point out about Japan).



(The suicide rate in Russia and Lithuania are really eye-popping--approaching one in 1000--and I assume that these do not count the slower suicides by vodka.)

Thanks for the links.

High suicide rates for northern countries such as Russia and Finland may be linked to SAD--Seasonal Affective Disorder. Also, high rates of alcholism tend to increase suicide rates.

I don't know what the medieval peasant's life was like, I don't think it was so good. But I do know they had a LOT of holidays, on which they were not permitted to work.

OTOH they did not have week ends. Gradually the hollidays were cleared out, and replaced with a work free sunday, later also saturday. There was hollidays for everything back in the days. Some of the orthodox churches still celebrates the third recovery of John the Baptist's head, for instanse.

Serfs had to work when the land or animals demanded work. In other words, serfs typically worked in summer and fall months perhaps eighty or more hours per week, with no days off. Some lords allowed their serfs to go to Church on Sundays; others did not, though there was great pressure from the Church ot allow everybody to go to Church at least on Sunday mornings.

Serfs ate what they grew--or rather, about half what they grew, because the other half (and sometimes more than half) was taken as a tax by the lord of the estate, who, in turn had to pay the tithe to the Church.
Serfdom was a miserable institution--on a par with the slavery of Blacks in the U.S. Typically, a serf never handled money.

The solution to the UK is *NOT* mining more coal, but would have been better public policies a decade or more ago. Some examples:

- Adopt the building standards of Germany and Sweden when they adopted them, or the year after.
- Stricter standards than G & S on energy retrofits to existing housing before sale (or as part of an incomplete sale by the new owner). Grants for older, poorer retirees, council housing and so forth.
- Strict energy efficiency standards for commercial spaces
- Breaking ground on at least a couple of new nuclear plants by now, with more in planniong for the near future.
- Creating a bias for more efficient combined cycle NG plants vs. turbine only NG plants (It my understanding that the UK has a "rich" mix of straight turbine generators)
- Tankless NG water heaters becoming the standard, with incentives for solar supplement
- Promote room ventless gas heaters (I use Made in Japan Rinnai). Heat the room that you are in at 99.9% efficiency (and add a bit of humidity).
- For central heating, promote air source heat pumps coupled with high efficiency gas furnances. In colder weather, burn gas. With milder temperatures, use SEER 25 or so heat pumps.
- Roll over the NIMBYs and build lots of wind, at least as much as the Germans.
- Build more pumped storage. Among other benefits, they negate the need for straight turbine NG units.
- Banning standard incadescent light bulbs a few years ago.

And there are other, better and wiser choices than just this list to burning more coal.

It is Climate Change and the GREAT evil of accelerating that, not some bucolic vision that you propose, that drives my opposition to coal.

So, yes, it is Voldemort and his cohorts that say "Drill, Baby, Drill" and "Burn, Baby, Burn". They can see the distant future and the results there.

There are a number of other technologies that serve humanity better, as my list shows.

Best Hopes for the Wise Use of Technology,


PS: I am trying to push, with my limited influence, a HV DC line from Iceland to Scotland and Ireland. Much more renewable energy could be produced there for export south.

What would such a HVDC line cost, per kW of capacity? How big would the transport losses be? How much could Icelandic hydro cost and how much excess do they have? I've a hard time believing that this could be economical in comparison with local wind and nuclear.

Given that local wind and nuclear need either back up or energy storage on a time-scale of weeks or months once they get to large scale use this may be cheaper / more efficient than some of the other options, it needs to be compared with storage costs not generation costs. At present just running existing gas peaking plant when needed is probably much cheaper but if gas becomes unaffordably expensive or just not available...

From post: "[T]he Chinese have been building a lot of coal-fired power stations, and are unlikely to have built any of them without an assured supply of coal for each."

Hmmm...Not a valid argument. They're also building & buying a lot of cars. That assumes they see an 'assured supply' of oil for each?

Despite its seemingly clever resource grabs, the assumption that industrial China knows what it's doing is as deluded as thinking the industrial US knows what it's doing. Unless, of course, they're both trying to commit mass suicide. If so, they're spot on, full speed ahead.

The economics of an inland coal power station is quite a bit more dependent on local coal mines than a car is dependent on local oil wells. Thus coal power stations and mines are somewhat mapped to each other, whereas cars and oil wells are not. Also, a coal power plant is an investment from which a big investor hope to profit from, whereas a car often is individual consumption that you know and accept will cost you a lot.


China said Wednesday coal reserves at some power plants had fallen to danger levels, and pledged to increase coal shipments to power plants to ensure adequate electricity supply during winter.

"Although coal shipments to power plants have increased since early this month, reserves in the key 349 power plants have dropped from 38 million tonnes mid-November to less than 35 million tonnes now," the Ministry of Railway (MOR) said in a statement.

"Reserves in some plants have dropped to the danger mark or even below it," it said.

So despite rolling blackouts in some regions (previously reported as due to a bizarre method to meet efficiency targets - not because of coal shortages), stocks are below danger levels at some stations. Hmm...

Monthly Record Seen for Chinese Coal Imports

All-time highs in Chinese coal imports are expected this month and next, the firm said in a report issued earlier this month. Describing its estimates as conservative, Commodore predicts that Chinese coal imports will total about 16.75 million tons in November and 17.25 million tons in December, the vast majority of it steaming or thermal coal used for heat and electricity.

Indonesia's domestic coal sales to hurt future exports

Indonesia's requirement for miners to sell more coal for the domestic market may squeeze supply within the next three to four years as domestic demand rises and production capacity is struggling to expand as quickly, officials said on Wednesday.

This coal is maybe purchased on free markets, but they also have a strategy of buying companies or collaborating with countries, effectively locking their supplies and prices at non-market level. E.g. if they get oil from Angola, it will cost them such and such, while we will pay market prices for ever decreasing supply of oil. Same applies to potential coal from Botswana.

Which will all work fine until there is a decreasing supply and increasing price. Then the Africans will break the contracts, like everyone else has always done.

I think this is a bit of a mistranslation. The volumes that are in short supply are not the reserves from which the coal is mined, but the stockpiles at the power plants, which are maintained so that if there is some delay in shipping to the plant, there is sufficient coal to keep them going for some risk-assessed period of time before supply can be re-established. (That depends, among other things, on how far the coal has to travel and how). And as Euan pointed out in his piece, China is increasing imports in part to keep the stockpiles large enough, as overall demand increases.

See also this news item though.

China bans hoarding of oil, coal to cool prices

Much of the coal is mined in north-central China and then shipped to big cities, utility plants and factories in the eastern coastal regions.

The planning agency complained that some areas, which it did not name, were requiring coal traders to obtain special permits before they can ship coal. "Coal production in some places is rather chaotic and supplies from small mines are unstable," it said.

China is claiming record coal production, record coal imports, record oil production (up 350,000 bpd on this time last year), record oil imports. Yet it has rolling power blackouts, low stocks at power stations and widespread diesel shortages.

Of course we cannot easily verify Chinese figures. Perhaps they are accurate. Or perhaps their coal production is stuttering after its sky-rocket ascent and national oil production falling rather than rising rapidly.

"[T]he Chinese have been building a lot of coal-fired power stations, and are unlikely to have built any of them without an assured supply of coal for each."

Yes, well, on a site devoted to exploring how an entire species has built a civilization on rapidly declining resources while simultaneously thinking that the good days are never going to end, that's a remarkably incongruous statement. Were I editing the post that would surely come out.

If anything at all has ever been repeatedly demonstrated on TOD, it is that humans have an incredibly poor ability to plan for a declining resource base. It might possibly be the most common underlying idea expressed in the posts here.

Because of the levels of investment required at both ends of the supply chain (the mine and the power station) there is often an agreement reached for coal supplies before either operation starts construction. Thus you see, in some of the recent agreements between China and Australia, for example, multi-year contracts being put into place. This also holds true with other large-scale operations (such as steel making) where a long-term supply of metallurgical grade coal would be required.

Since investors are putting real money into building more coal plants, it seems the burden of proof falls to the peakists to show that the EROI of coal will prevent conversion of the huge resource base into reserves.

What is the EROI of coal that is currently marked as a resource but not reserve? Are there any studies about this? If EROI is not available perhaps cost would be a good proxy.

Unrealistic conclusion.

The few new coal plants planned do not consume as much coal as the inefficient old ones used to use in their heyday, when they supplied base load power. The aging old coal power plants are being put on stand by prior to retirement (i.e. annual coal use trending to zero).

TVA built it's last coal plant in 1970 and recently announced scrapping 1,000 MW of coal plants built in the 1940s and 1950s. For replacement, they built a 600 MW NG plant, upgraded their pumped storage plant and are finishing Watts Bar 2 nuke (2013 ?).

In a post-Peak Coal world (not there yet, but hoping), it makes economic sense to build fewer & more efficient coal fired plants to replace larger MW of inefficient old coal plants.


I don't know the answer to your questions but I don't really need to because all I'm trying to point out is that we give the green light to projects all the time that fail spectacularly when it was pretty obvious to people who weren't blinded by greed or ambition that the project would fail. Looking back, everyone shakes their heads and says, "What were they thinking?" People believe what they want to believe and clearly and routinely ignore the evidence that is as clear as day. When ambition takes hold, prudence often goes out the window.

I've seen many projects that got funding in Corporate America based on completely unrealistic assumptions that then fail to materialize and the project then tanks.

How about one of the largest airports in the world currently with just 200,000 passengers per year using it?

Have a look at other white elephants.

The capacity of humans to deceive themselves is immense. Under pressure to provide both employment and electricity, I can easily see a Chinese government official signing off on a coal project while saying to himself, "This solves my problem today and it will be someone else's problem when I'm gone."

And investors are not at all immune to this phenomenon. Very often they focus on their potential returns and fail to do their due diligence. Or someone says, "have you thought about x?" and the investor waves their hand and says, "don't worry, that's not a problem!" then proceeds to lose all their investment.

Human beings do not always make rational decisions; emotions sway people more than reason very often.

“It's difficult to get a man to understand something if his salary depends on him not understanding it.”
—Upton Sinclair

Coal availability is directly related to the amt of available energy to remove it.

"Economic Geology" is contradictory and is a word salad.

It's interesting to look at the Consumption (C) to Production (P) ratios for US, coal, natural gas (NG) and oil (EIA). 100% marks the demarcation line between net exporter and net importer status.

US C/P for 1998 & 2008 respectively:

Coal: 93% & 96%

NG: 117% & 114%

Oil: 203% & 229%

Regarding coal, there has been a recent uptick in net exports, but the longer term trend line shows us approaching net importer status. The C/P ratio in 1980 was 85%. The 1980 to 2008 trend line suggests that US approaches zero net coal exports around 2020. US net coal exports:

Because of an uptick in production, and a further decline in consumption, the C/P ratio for oil fell to 205% in 2009, and there was probably drop in the NG ratio too. However, the US is still a NG net importer (apparently world's third largest net NG importer in 2009), and we are still the world's largest net oil importer.

The issue on global coal consumption is not the quantity of reserves, but the energy density and sulfur content thereof. For example, there are vast reserves in the US, but many have such a high sulfur content as to make them impractical for use in modern coal-fired power plants as you incur an additional cost in scrubbing this sulfur out of the smokestack. So, power plants have replaced this coal with lower energy content sub-bituminous coal from the Gillette fields in Wyoming.

Consequently, because of the abundance of low-grade, high-sulfur coals in the world, the current price of coal doesn't allow for the economic utilization of these resources. They might be used in the future for, say, coal to liquids technology, in which the sulfur and other impurities are scrubbed out in the gasification process, but this is an energy-intensive approach and guarantees a high price of liquid fuels, insuring that other technologies that would be profitable at that price would compete with CTL, including natural gas to liquids, or perhaps something from the burgeoning biofuels industry. High prices will also quash consumption, stabilizing prices to a point where the additional capital investment for CTL may not make much long-term economic sense when motor fuel consumption is in decline. I think you'll see some of these reserves used for CTL, but why would someone build a multi-billion dollar coal gas and gas to liquids refinery when natural gas is so cheap, electric vehicles are entering the markets, and overall fuel consumption is in decline in the developed world. Sans subsidies, CTL technology is cost-competitive with oil at the same price range that algae-based biofuels or natural gas to liquids would be, and, either way it goes, at that point you start to see demand destruction: people just start using less fuel.

Fundamentally, I think when we get to a point where CTL is cost-competitive (the industry says $70 to $90 dollars/bbl, but I've seen third-party estimates as high as $130 to $150/bbl) then investors will be faced with other quandries: I could just invest in natural gas to liquids, which is a proven technology and can work with existing gas infrastructure. I could invest in nuclear power, which is government subsidized via loan guarantees. I could invest in natural gas and electric vehicle infrastructure, which certainly get a lot more feel-good PR points than CTL and is likely going to be subsidized in some capacity in coming years. There's too much uncertainty in the market and too many potential motor fuel supplies coming online.

Fundamentally, we can't really count these low-EROEI, high-sulfur reserves because their use may not ever be economically practical in the current regulatory environment. We can either relax the regulations and return to an era of acid-rain and mercury poisoning, or mine these reserves for export only for as long as the developing world is willing to buy it.

But the real nail in the coffin for coal is natural gas. Cleaner, easier to control, more efficient when used in combined-cycle plants, and is available to a much greater market (domestic, industrial, chemical feedstock, etc.) with fewer requirements for meeting environmental regulations. They're cheap to build and easy to maintain, so much so that many utilities are beginning to replace aging coal-fired infrastructure with combined-cycle natural gas facilities.

The other curve-ball with cheap natural gas is that it makes processing of Alberta oil sands a lot cheaper, as the major expense goes into the energy required to heat the bitumen and force it from the sand. The cost of a barrel of Canadian synthetic crude, therefore, goes down. So cheap gas actually extends the worlds oil supplies, by making oil sands cheaper to extract, but suppresses coal consumption, by forcing coal to compete with cheaper natural gas and destroys electric consumption as people switch to gas for home heating.

If it weren't for all this cheap shale gas, and the likely boon of gas that will come from the Arctic in coming years, I'd say you'd be right and that coal will continue to play a major role in the future global energy mix. I think the gas glut is a major game-changer.

Having said that, China, and India to a lesser extent, will continue to import coal, so coal producers may find a healthy export market. However, both countries are pretty savvy and understand that a trade surplus is in their best interest. I think, as coal consumption goes up in the developing world, the global price of coal will continue to rise. This will destroy demand in gas-rich North America and spur alternative energy resource development in China and India in nuclear, hydroelectric, both countries have massive wind programs, etc.

Coal will always have a niche market. It's cheap as all get out for home heating in some parts of the US and metallurgical coal will still be a big customer for the industry. For the immediate future, I think consumption will rise, spurring a healthy global trade in coal, but, for their own energy security, I don't think the Chinese and Indians will continue to pursue this policy. Both countries have the money and technical wherewithal to build a massive nuclear power complex, both are investing heavily in renewables and as-yet unproven technologies, such as enhanced geothermal, and neither want to be dependent on Australia, N. America, or Africa for their energy requirements.

Given all this, I don't think the long-term prospects for coal are as rosy as you think. Like I said, I think the gas-glut changes the game and by the time consumption catches up with new supply, other energy technologies will be ready for commercial deployment.


Your opening paragraph does not seem right: getting sulfur out of power station exhausts is quite practical.

The issue on global coal consumption is not the quantity of reserves, but the energy density and sulfur content thereof. For example, there are vast reserves in the US, but many have such a high sulfur content as to make them impractical for use in modern coal-fired power plants as you incur an additional cost in scrubbing this sulfur out of the smokestack. So, power plants have replaced this coal with lower energy content sub-bituminous coal from the Gillette fields in Wyoming.

The selling prices listed by the EIA don't support this generalization. Wyoming coal averages (in 2009) less than $20/ton while West Virginia coal averages over $60/ton.

The statistics on coal shipping costs [Excel spreadsheet] are nine years out of date, but for the Powder River Basin shipping costs to power stations ranged from 67% to 75% of total delivered cost in 2001. Applying the same ratios to 2009 would put the delivered cost of Wyoming coal in the $45-$80 per ton, or roughly the same as Appalachian coal (bearing in mind its lower energy content).

This suggests to me that the real reason so much coal is being mined in Wyoming is that all the easy (and therefore cheap) Appalachian coal has been produced. It's a bit like oil sands. Certainly the coal or oil is there, but producing it and getting it to market is much more expensive than the production and transportation costs were fifty years ago.

So much energy is consumed transporting the coal that it must have a noticeable effect on the EROEI.

The same problems affect the coal industry everywhere. As with oil, the easy and cheap coal has been produced long ago. In the U.S. the basic problem is that the easy coal is in Wyoming and Montana, a thousand miles from where the demand is, while the remaining coal close to the population concentrations is deep, in thin seams, and in inaccessible places. In China, there are probably the same kind of problems, but the consumption is so large that they will probably get much worse much faster. And it isn't going to be practical to replace declining Chinese production with imports. For example, the Pike River mine in New Zealand was to have produced one million tonnes per year, essentially all for export. That rate of production is about 0.03% of China's current coal consumption. And of course it will not be reached in the near future because the mine is now closed indefinitely following the explosion a few days ago.

There's about a four-thousand BTU per pound difference between the two, with the Appalachian coal having a higher energy content, but a much higher sulfur content. It's still used, but usually blended with low sulfur Wyoming coal to skip scrubbing costs.

Sulfur removal is practical, but it's also an expensive proposition. Current costs of removal of SO2 are about $500/ton of SO2 removed and requires additional energy and raw material input. As such, it's usually more cost-affective for a utility to buy a lower-grade, but lower sulfur content coal, to use as fuel than to use a high-sulfur, high-BTU content coal and scrub out the sulfur, nevermind the reduced EROEI that comes into play when a portion of a plant's energy is redirected for pollution controls. Co-firing with biomass can also help this situation, and is starting to be practiced in facilities that don't meet current regs (I know the Big Cajun Two plant is starting to co-fire), but using biomass does nothing to extend existing coal supplies.

This is why it's been economically impractical to burn some of our high-sulfur coal reserves, as every additional ton of SO2 generated over the EPA mandates must be scrubbed out. In order to utilize this coal, many facilities would have to undergo extensive, and expensive, capital improvements to meet regulations.

Or we can find more low-sulfur coal, but the Powder River Basin supplies about 40 percent of US coal consumption and only has about 20 years of life left in it at current prices. There could be more, we're only recovering about half at this rate, if we're willing to pay a higher cost for the coal, but I suppose that depends on what the energy picture looks like in two decades. Again, the coal may cost so much to extract, but pollution controls, or using the coal as feedstock for coal to liquids programs (which would help bypass, somewhat, the sulfur issue) adds cost to the final product; costs that may be eliminated by using a different feedstock or a different fuel altogether.

But, like you say, the coal and oil is there, it's just an issue of how much we're willing pay and all these costs need to be taken into consideration. It's all about economics: barring some kind of pricing mechanism for carbon, we're going to use the cheapest energy available to us. That's why I say in the face of cheap natural gas, which has few of the added costs associated with it as coal does, coal as an electrical source is obsolete.

Just look at the market. Where's most of the new generating capacity coming from? Gas and wind, because these, in the current regulatory and tax environment, are the most cost-effective sources of electricity right now. That may change in the future, but the chemical content of coal will remain and there's only so many ways to chemically extract sulfur from hot flue gas. Some other technology may come around, but it's just as likely that a more commercially viable breeder reactor is developed, high-efficiency combined heat and power natural gas fuel cells come to market, or the drilling technology being developed for off-shore production accelerates research in enhanced geothermal technology.

Twenty years can be a paradigm shift, if the pricing is right and the investments are there.

It is not necessarily uneconomic to burn biomass with higher sulphur coals. At Missouri S&T the boiler has been burning around 40% wood chips together with the higher sulphur Illinois coal for decades, and has found that the two are about the same cost per unit of energy produced. However, in a development I just heard about today, the campus will be switching to a Geothermal source, and as soon as I find out more about that change I will write a post on it.

That is interesting, I'd love to see your post on it!

But I wasn't implying that biomass burned with high sulfur coals is uneconomical and is sort of the wild-card in terms of coal generation, as the economy of this is largely dependent on finding available biomass. I think it makes more sense in relatively rural parts of the country with large and local forestry industries then it does as a universal solution.

That's why I brought up the Big Cajun Two plant: with the decline in natural gas prices, a lot of utilities here are looking to burning agricultural waste and forestry byproducts in the coal-fired plants in Louisiana. I'm not sure if they're doing it to show the Public Service Commission that Louisiana really can have a large renewable energy sector by taking advantage of it's biomass potential, or if they're doing it because Big Cajun Two, as well as others, have been out of compliance with the EPA and may be fined over it due to their heavy reliance on lignite coal mined in state (Louisiana has no other higher grade coal reserves). Either way, if it's fuel costs or cost of compliance, the economics of coal are working against it's use and plans to convert older gas plants (most of our electricity is from gas boiler units) to burn coal are being scuttled in favor of upgrading to combined-cycle turbines to improve efficiencies and upgrades at existing nuclear facilities. As a tangent, what's really going to change the game here is if some of the experiments in hydrokinetic generation bear fruit. If they do, I'll post something on it.

I think co-firing coal and biomass makes sense if you're looking to clean up existing infrastructure and expand your fuel sources, as is the current battle plan down here. The same rubric may not make sense in other parts of the country. But, again, this limits the economic feasibility of using high-sulfur coal if you have to have a readily available biomass source or else invest big money in pollution controls, unless we're willing to relax the regulations around sulfur emissions (I'm not).

Barring some sudden relaxation of environmental policy or some crazy awesome new coal-burning technology (for the cost of FutureGen, you might as well go nuclear), I really just think the current gas supply is going to work against coal in the future. After all, if we're finding all this shale gas in the US, it's a matter of time before other reserves elsewhere in the world are discovered and brought online. I truly believe a lot of our coal is just going to end up staying in the ground. Ecologically speaking, this is probably a good thing.

But that may change, if gas demand suddenly shoots up. It will increase, but I don't think it will be enough to eat up all the new supply, at least domestically, if only because there's lots of room for efficiency gains in our current infrastructure. That can change if we start using natural gas as a vehicle fuel, but my money is on plug-in hybrids.

The anthracite of Pennsylvania is of course less sulfur, but the ash is twice as much, hence the air quality issues that we have in Pennsylvania. I'd be concerned that the "shale gas" story has depressed the price of gas and if it does not deliver as projected we'll see at least a doubling of the price of NG. The other concern I have is that in an energy crunch the policy driven cost inputs to coal of low-sulfur, scrubbing, etc get thrown out to keep the lights on, given that this would possibly/probably happen following or during a peak price on liquid fuels reducing car usage, some would argue that the amount of pollution and/or carbon would be netted out.

There seem to be two contradictory arguments here. The first is that coal is the cheapest and most abundant fossil fuel and so as supplies of oil and gas become scarcer it is likely to be used as a fallback supply of energy. The second is that we cannot have truly reached a maximum rate of extraction/consumption (all that is really meant by peak) because as the price rises, resources, including those that were previously downgraded, will be upgraded to reserve status and mined at a profit. The second argument defeats the first; if the price of coal rises enough to upgrade these resources, it will mean coal is not so cheap anymore and therefore not so attractive as an energy alternative going forward. Yes a rising price will increase the potential supply but it will also affect demand. Incidentally, this effect is one of the major reasons why peaks happen: some maximum rate of production is achieved when prices reach an equilibrium. Lower prices result in decreased supply while higher prices cause demand destruction; significant price movement in either direction will have the effect of reducing the overall level of consumption, i.e. the beginning of the decline phase.

A few points:

1. Coal is not an easy replacement for oil - sure, there is technology to convert coal into liquid fuels, but the process is wasteful of a great deal of energy and more expensive than developing either conventional or heavy/unconventional crude (and maybe even oil shale). If coal becomes the preferred source of liquid fuels worldwide it will be only because everything else has been virtually tapped out.

2. The suggestion is made that coal will remain abundant because of the proven availability of large surface deposits minable with little more than "bigger shovels" - while certainly true of some reserves, and may result in a lower limit for the amount of economically minable coal remaining, the existence of these deposits does not imply that the maximum is not already close to reached. Clearly, to maintain BAU at present, it is necessary for many deep underground and poor quality seams to be mined. There may be *some* coal remaining essentially indefinitely in the form of surface outcrops, but that does not tell us whether present rates of consumption can be sustained (and it seems highly likely that they cannot if these are all that remain to be viably extracted). Surely there is a reason this coal is not being preferably mined now if it is so easy to get at; could it be that the costs of bringing it to market, i.e. most of the cost of coal production, are too high even if it could be initially mined with little more than a pick and shovel?

3. Energy production need not be a zero sum game between different fossil energy resources. It may be difficult for most people alive today to conceive of a world run entirely, or almost entirely, on renewable resources, and it is therefore not difficult to understand why preserving BAU under a fossil fuel economy would be seen as the highest priority. What is lost here is that it is not just presently uneconomical deposits of coal, but also renewable energy systems (including the kinds of energy storage and other support systems needed to allow them to serve a much greater need) that become vastly more competitive under a scenario of rising conventional energy prices. Coal isn't so widely used because it's the highest quality energy source available; it's because it's cheap. If other things, whether wind power or or natural gas or nuclear or anything else, become cheaper, they will be used instead - not more expensive coal. Keep in mind the "best case" for more abundant coal is we get an extra few years or decades of BAU before being forced to transition (or die off) anyway, whether for ecological or supply-based reasons.

In short, I am unconvinced by this line of thinking as it is similar to the argument that oil cannot peak because large proven deposits remain that could theoretically be extracted (in the Arctic, ultra-deep water, Orinoco belt, etc.). The more important question in either case is not how much oil/coal is (even known to be) left in the ground but rather what costs, financial, ecological, energetic, or otherwise, will society tolerate in the name of continuing to make these resources available to markets. We have already seen economic impacts of $150 and even $80 oil as the price of goods rises and discretionary income falls. I imagine that this threshold will be reached at a much lower price for coal given that it is an intrinsically lower quality fuel with greater environmental impacts than oil. This piece seems to be arguing against a straw man as nobody as far as I am aware is saying the demise of the coal industry is "imminent" but rather some are saying that we appear to be close to a peak. Crude oil peaked worldwide in 2005 but the industry is not dead. I'm not sure why this would be any different unless we have moved the goalposts.

There are huge resources of coal but they are concentrated in a few countries(USA, China, Russia, India, South Africa, Australia). That means countries with coal need to be willing and able to share their coal with the rest of the world and that the carbon dioxide produced needs to be sequestered.

One way to accomplish that is to convert coal to synthetic natural gas which is largely what IGCC-CCS technology(Integrated Gasification and Combined Cycle with Carbon Capture and Sequestration) does. The efficiency of IGCC-CCS is roughly the same as todays aging steam cycle plants with compression energy using up the higher efficiency of the IGCC turbines. CO2 burning emissions from power plants represents 42% of US total emissions with 33% coming from transport.

The synthetic natural gas of IGCC plants can be converted to a close approximation of methane by methane and coal producers could export coal energy in the form of LNG or methanol to countries without coal resources. Converting coal to LNG will reduce available energy by half so it would be best if all coal consuming countries has IGCC-CCS.

A plug-in flex fuel hybrid like the Volt running on IGCC electricity and IGCC M85 for range would be an expensive fix for a world with $200 per barrel oil.

I have some antipathy toward the notion that it is desirable in the long term to replace coal-fired power plants with gas-fired ones, the smaller carbon footprint of natural gas notwithstanding.

Natural gas is currently the most widely used means of home heating in the US. It is the ideal fuel for this application for many reasons, i.e., relatively cheap, clean-burning, and easy to supply. However, at some point in the future, natural gas supplies, like oil, will eventually become constrained. When that happens, then what are people supposed to use to heat their homes? Coal? Is it realistic to think we are going to start installing millions of coal furnaces and go back to coal deliveries? Plus the air pollution implications of tens of millions of homes burning coal without any emission controls whatsoever are too horrible to contemplate.

So in light of those concerns, might it not be better to conserve our natural gas reserves for future home heating where there isn't much in the way of suitable substitutes and not divert so much of it for electrical power generation? I fully understand why utilities love natural gas for power generation: low capital investment, ease of operation of operation, no ash handling, etc. Plus, they are not particularly concerned about rising prices because they can usually pass this on to the consumer. I fear this is a very short-sighted view that ignores what should be an obvious question: how are people going to stay warm when the gas runs out or becomes too expensive?

"When that happens, then what are people supposed to use to heat their homes?'

This is a good reason for a national crash program to super-insulate homes, especially those in the north. I am doubtful, however, that the new congress is in much of a mood for any such program.

80% of Americans live in single family homes which are 50% as efficient as multifamily units. If prices rise too much they can move into apartments.

Almost all US housing is highly inefficient.
Superinsulation techniques such as Passive House could hugely reduce heating bills but cheap gas subsidizes massive waste.


Super high efficiency furnaces and water heaters at +90% efficiency can only save so much so gas(over 65-80% existing) government rebates are basically stupid.
Unfortunately, proper exterior insulation techniques will alter the 'look' of the property and consequently its value so the owner is left with a choice between maintaining ellusive property value and really reducing energy by 50% or more.
Apartment building owners will raise rents to cover the cost of retrofits so a subsidy would help cover the burden.
We need to raise natural gas taxes and heavily subsidize extreme
retrofits until people get the message.
Perhaps it seems harsh to penalize unsuspecting energy hogs who daydream about the good ol' days of cheap energy.
Americans have the lowest energy prices in the world--do they expect that condition to last forever?
The government and building officials have been pushing up standards---it is business interests, politicians and media who lie and nurture the false expectations of the public.

Higher price energy will make multifamily dwellings a better choice than single family housing. Also, people may choose to live closer to work to save $$. For those than must have single family housing they can reduce the square feet of living space and design housing to be more fuel efficient.

Also, people may choose to live closer to work to save $$.

Not impossible, but many problems, especially if the work is in the city.
(1) Moving is costly but stable jobs seem less and less in our futures.
(2) May be impossible to move close to both spouses' jobs.
(3) Housing near work will often be unaffordable.
(4) Neighborhood near work may be crime-ridden or unsuitable for kids.
(5) Schools near work may be worthless or dangerous.

Your points are valid concerns in many parts of the country but I'd like to point out that in some cities -- Seattle and Portland come to mind -- finding Live-Work-Play in a single neighborhood is what young families, city government and real estate developers are all striving for. Check out Ballard or any of the other inner city neighborhoods in Seattle.

Yes, it's expensive, but perhaps not so much when you consider that you can cut your miles down to 2-5K per year and perhaps get rid of a car. Compact urban neighborhoods can be very desirable places to live. So much so that where I live lots of people do the old fashioned thing by choosing work that is close to home rather than the other way around.

Good points, and his #1 somewhat answers his #2--as jobs dry up, in fewer couples will both have jobs. The location issue points up again that our realestate system is completely broken and must be scrapped.

When the country is full of both empty houses and homeless people, something is not working.

This remind me of the early Soviet experiment called the "New Economic Policy" where city folk were starving, while farmers were unemployed. Did I mention it failed?

..Tune the Guitar... Huuummmmm.... "Take your apartment and shuv it..."

Natural gas is currently the most widely used means of home heating in the US. It is the ideal fuel for this application for many reasons, i.e., relatively cheap, clean-burning, and easy to supply.

Fuel consumption wise, it is more efficient to use the NG to produce electric power, and use air (or ground) source heat pumps for local heat. That also leaves you with significant NG to electric capability, which could be very useful for smoothing out supply gaps from wind and solar. We need to invest heavily in a transition away from burning NG for low grade heat, and towards using heatpump technology for low grade heating applications.

The only reason heat pumps are attractive is because electricity is cheap due to coal.
A ton of coal costs less than $50 and produces ~2 Mwh of energy.
An equal amount of energy, 20,000 cf of NG would cost $80 ($4 per mmbtu) not including the hefty distribution charges and would deliver 3 Mwh with the latest state-of-the-art natural gas generating technology(54% efficient NGCC); 2 Mwh for $50 is cheaper than 3 Mwh for $80.


Coal is and will be the cheapest source of thermal electricity for the next 100 years.

A state of the art 9 HSPF heat pump in a moderate
5000 degree day climate might require 16 mwh of electricity for heating representing 40.5 mwh of primary energy to the grid(which includes hydro and nuclear). This wouldn't include electricity for the coldest days when the heat pump wouldn't work good if at all and you'd have to run on electric resistance back up coils.

A 90% AFUE condensing furnace would require 154,000 cubic feet of gas representing 45 mwh of natural gas.
costing $800.

So practically speaking its a wash. Ground source heat pumps will do better but the installation costs are stratospheric.

The best route is to drasticly reduce your energy usage once and for all with superinsulation, IMO.

Can the author of this post or someone with similar knowledge of a mining operation articulate some of the reasons why increasingly more difficult access to petroleum products will not significantly hamper the production of coal? I understand that much of the large equipment used for mining is now electrified, but haven’t we built in other petroleum-reliant aspects of a mining operation over the past decades? What about the giant EUC trucks used for on-site transportation of materials? What about transportation of mined coal to power plants? Can most coal mining sites move coal from the electrified mining equipment to the power plant without the use of petroleum with current infrastructure?

From a “big picture” perspective, is the suggestion of this post that there are enough quality coal reserves the world over, and infrastructure changes could be implemented easily enough, that energy from coal will offset the energy lost from declining oil production, and the global industrial economy will be able to continue BAU for a few more decades on coal power?
Or is the suggestion that even though peak oil will cause a crisis in transportation fuels, the people of the world who have become reliant on electricity don’t have to worry about the lights going out just yet, because peak coal is still decades away?
Personally, I would disagree with either suggestion. Taking a holistic view of our global economy fast approaching financial, energy, and environmental limits, I believe that the decline of coal production will closely follow that of oil production and many other energy and capital intensive industrial processes.

For some time I have been interested in the cost ($s and energetic) relations and interactions between energy sources. These are not simple nor linear. There appear to be a number of negative feedbacks. As you have indicated coal transportation and some extraction, esp. surface operations, depend very heavily on diesel from oil. Converting to either NG or, worse to liquid from coal, has a high energy and dollar investment plus operating costs. This would surely drive the price of coal up which would reflect in the costs of everything else (e.g. electricity).

The costs associated with building out and maintaining alternative sources such as wind and solar still depend very much on fossil fuel inputs at all stages of the life-cycle of the equipment. So as fossil fuel costs rise, so too will the costs of the alternatives until such time as they might become truly self-sustaining (a very doubtful prospect given their current, relatively low EROIs, esp. solar).

My, admittedly very early and primitive, model of the energetics of all fossil fuels and agriculture suggests that oil is essential to every other form. Some of this, but not all, is due to historical accidents of infrastructure development. But much more is based on pure energetics, the quality aspects of oil compared with coal and a little less so with natural gas. Technology might ameliorate this to a small degree but technology isn't free and it doesn't change the basic energetics differences ruled by the laws of thermodynamics. It will only allow us to substitute, with substantial energy losses, between one source and the other with no gain other than keeping the current infrastructure (mostly transportation) usable.

Oil is what I call the kingpin energy source. As we pass the peak of its extraction and as the EROI further declines so that net energy yields diminish, it will make problematic the extraction and refinement of all other fossil fuels. Prices for energy inputs as a fraction of all input costs to all work will rise throughout the supply chains. Everything in the world is going to get very expensive! Keep your eye, especially, on food.

Mining companies are now, much more so than in the past, looking into the energy costs of running their operations and analyzing where the power goes. This need was brought home to them when (as I wrote about a couple of years ago) mines began to see more power supply shortfalls with the concomitant need for them to have a load-shedding plan when power supplies fell.

But, in regard to diesel, I am aware of two mines that now use bio-diesel as their underground fuel source. The reason has more to do with the airborne particulates generated than other issues, but it is already a viable alternative source.

Is it true that most modern coal mining technology either is or can be powered by electricity?

Yes, particularly in surface operations, but also quite widely used underground, particularly in coal mines. Metal mines tend to go more toward diesel because of the flexibility in the less controlled deposit geometries.


I have nothing but the highest regard for your technical expertise in many areas of fossil fuel extraction. But I think we will be sorely disappointed at the scaling up capacity of bio-diesel fuels for mining purposes. I know there are some on this site who view bio-fuels as a viable alternative but lessons from the EROI of corn ethanol (even from sugar cane ethanol) and the simple biophysical facts of efficiency in photosynthesis should dissuade any beliefs that bio-anykindoffuel will solve any of our extraction problems or transportation deficits.

I am glad to hear that there is an awareness of energetics among mining engineers.


Corn ethanol is currently really a natural gas to liquids process that has an over-unity conversion factor due to the solar input that in addition produces animal feed. When natural gas was high, there was a lot of interest in biomass gasification in ethanol plants. What I'm personally seeing though, is that the per-MWH cost of curtailed or off-peak electricity is, or soon will be cheaper than what ethanol plants pay for natural gas. So putting in electric heaters for distillation will eventually make sense.

Diverting 5% to 20% of crop production to oilseed crops would easily supply biodiesel for farm & mining equipment.

Good luck with that belief.

The model you are working on sounds very interesting. I agree with your view of oil as the "kingpin" energy source.
I have been reading a lot about rising food prices and the developing food crises lately. Incidently, in the post below, Heading Out suggests biofuel as a viable replacement for the diesel powered operations in mining. I wonder if we began replacing the diesel in all of the coal mines in the U.S. with biofuel, how much of an impact it would make on the availability of food crop land and the price of food?

See my response to HO re: bio-fuels. Any large scale attempt to replace fossil sunlight with real-time sunlight is bound to failure.

George.Mobus -

I think at this point it can be convincingly shown that the fossil-fuel energy input associated with the construction and installation of both wind and solar are recovered in a relatively short time in relation to the total energy produced over their expected operating life.

And once wind turbines and solar arrays are in place, the amount of fossil fuel associated with their operation and maintenance is almost trivial. As such, the amount of fossil fuel required for these activities is so small compared to our current usage that they probably could easily be supplied by a variety of bio fuels, even low EROI ones. I have a hard time seeing this as an important issue.

There is a tendency to make these energy input/output analyses more complicated than they need be. One does not need to laboriously account for everything. As long as one can show that a first or second order estimate captures over say 85% of the total actual input, then one does not need to agonize over how to handle such things as allocating the energy in the gasoline the maintenance man used to drive his car to the wind turbine repair shop.

I think at this point it can be convincingly shown that the fossil-fuel energy input associated with the construction and installation of both wind and solar are recovered in a relatively short time in relation to the total energy produced over their expected operating life.

Would appreciate sources. Mine are from Charlie Hall.

I have a hard time seeing this as an important issue.

So too, it seems, for many. Even though the math is not that difficult.

There is a tendency to make these energy input/output analyses more complicated than they need be.

A comment often heard from those who do not want to know the reality.

Working on "feel" (because I don't have the time or resources) I think it will come down to how fast diesel fuel will go into depletion vs how fast mining equipment can be retrofitted to work on pure electric and what will be the resulting limitations on coal mining

But you also need to ask where is the electricity coming from. If it is from fossil fuel sources than you have created a large negative feedback loop that is bound to cause price increases all around. Electricity from hydro and nuclear are quite limited geographically and scale-wise. People should stop believing in magic!!!!

The last time I looked, in both France and Japan generated most of their electricity from nuclear fission.

Pray tell, why could the U.S. not be as enlightened to the extent that France and Japan are?

Whether enlightened or not, scaling up is the issue.

Ummmm, did you miss the article about the New England utility is stuck with a nuke that is too expensive to decommission but to old to restart or sell? http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/23/business/23nuke.html?_r=1

It is going to take billions of dollars just to retire the nukes now on line. We don't have anymore to pour down this black hole, not when wind is now competitive, when solar soon will be (see the article on that, too), and seeing that conservation is far the cheapest, best approach to all our energy and resource problems.

...too expensive to decommission but too old to restart or sell...

But is that an intrinsic property of nuclear reactors, or is it simply the result of a Luddite regulatory process oriented to making them fail economically as a political means of appeasing loudmouths with too much time on their hands, aka "campaigners"? For example, with respect to "too old", we tend to encounter integer - and yet politically malleable - multiples of 10 years. Perhaps there is a bizarre form of long-period quantum mechanics somewhere in this, but really, I've yet to learn of any physics whatsoever linking ten times the earth's orbital period to the properties of materials used in reactors...

Neutrons degrade most all containment materials(steel, concrete) over time. Radioactive tritium leached from lithium and boron from accummulates in coolant water. Maintenance is difficult and there is a shortage of bio-robots.
The steam turbines wear out.
Letting the nuclear plants run to failure is not an acceptable alternative.
Once they can not operate reliably they should be decommissioned as abandoned property degrades even faster than properly maintained property.

Ummmm, did you miss the article about the New England utility is stuck with a nuke that is too expensive to decommission but to old to restart or sell?

I don't think you read the whole article you link to. They apparently solved the problem by keeping it simple.

It is going to take billions of dollars just to retire the nukes now on line. We don't have anymore to pour down this black hole,

Yes you do. Lots of money, actually.

not when wind is now competitive, when solar soon will be (see the article on that, too), and seeing that conservation is far the cheapest, best approach to all our energy and resource problems.

Actually, wind is somewhat competitive b/c penetration is low (so intermittence is manageable) while the technology has achieved economies of scale. When nuclear, which has quite far to economies of scale, has caught up and is treated well by bureaucracy, it should be about half the price per kWh. Solar will likely never be competitive, and conservation costs differ wildly depending on what process you try to optimize.

"it should be about half the price per kWh"

Promises of "too cheap to meter" nukes have been around for a very long time. We're all still waiting.

Why is the "too cheap to meter" myth unkillable?


The "too cheap to meter" remark was actually uttered by a high governmental official back in the 1950s. I forget his name. Anyway, the remark is not a myth.

I've been a big booster for the U.S. to do what France and Japan did decades ago. I find it hard to believe that Frenchmen and Japanese are smarter than U.S. Americans. What they did (in roughly a decade) we could also do. And so could Sweden.

France scaled up its nuclear from practically nothing to present levels in about ten or twelve years. Nuclear can be scaled up FAST if the political will is there. We have plenty of nuclear engineers, because so many serve or served in the U.S. Navy. We do have limited supplies of Ph.D.s in nuclear engineers, but we could always import a few hundred from Japan or France.

Japan also scaled up nuclear power very very rapidly.

These two examples prove that fast scaling up of nuclear fission electric power generation is quite feasible. Indeed, the engineering is much better now than it was when France and Japan went bigtime into nukes.

The USA has far fewer experienced personnel (and supply chain) than you suppose. And the French & Japanese more than you suppose at the start of their "Rush to Nukes".

I strongly support significantly larger subsidies for new nukes, high enough to get 5 to 8 built by 2020, so that in 2018-2020 we will have the experienced people and supply chain to start a "Rush to Nuke" if we need to.

Building a half dozen new nukes would be a nice "drop in the bucket" but the real value is giving us the future option if we need it.

Best Hopes for a Safe, Economic Build-out of New Nukes,


Hope is good. Nature will decide what is right.

All true. When fossil fuel inputs were cheap.

Surging production in some mines is consistent with both an approaching peak and BAU
As producers like China run down you'd expect other suppliers to fill the gap. Fortunately it won't be enough. Australia's coal exports to all countries of 260 Mt a year is less than 10% of China's domestic demand of over 3,000 Mt a year.

I note other countries are getting in on the Asian coal export business. If I recall the US exports about 40 Mt a year of coal. The New Zealand mine at which the miners were killed aimed to increase coking coal exports to India. Russia and Africa will supply more coal to Asia. However I believe Peak Oil supply will create Peak Coal demand through a general economic slowdown.

Two mechanisms by which Peak Oil could increase coal demand are CTL and EV charging with coal fired electricity. I don't see any evidence yet that they will grow exponentially. Surely the mere talk of cap-and-trade or carbon tax must put the willies on any company considering an increase in coal use. OTOH increasing coal exports to China and India means we don't get to see the carbon pollution in our back yard. In my opinion coal and LNG exported to Asia should be subject to carbon tax. Either that or finished goods subjected to a carbon tariff upon importation.

Suicide is painless
and brings on many changes---

Lets burn it until the petri dish is full.

Some of the naiveté showing her makes me wonder where people get their data. World short of coal in twenty or thirty years? Really? Check out

a) Robotic remote mining, now cost-effectively used in the hard-rock mines of Canada, eg. Inco in Sudbury. (Operators of mining machines sit in cubicles at the surface, operating three or four semi-autonomous mining machines simultaneously). Once perfected, the cost of mining difficult underground seams will plummet, and many resources will suddenly become reserves. And the robotic machines will not be restricted to only thick seams. Only present problem is that labour is too cheap in most locations.

b) In-ground gasification. Perhaps limited by the requirement to not polute nearby aquifers, but still opens up for access unimaginably huge deposits which may be too deep, to low quality, too thinly laid, etc.

c) Nearly 1/5th of the (huge) province of Alberta, Canada is underlain by one or more of 5 coal structures. Mostly too deep to mine economically (yet) but contains multiple times the coal of the lower 48, all uniformly laid under relatively sparsly occupied open prairie surface. Once the market requests syngas for whatever purpose, the inground gassification will start. Only problem now is that N. Gas is too cheap.

FWIW, I believe it is ridiculous to hope that supply limits will constrain GHG emissions, unfortunately.

b) In-ground gasification. Perhaps limited by the requirement to not polute nearby aquifers, but still opens up for access unimaginably huge deposits which may be too deep, to low quality, too thinly laid, etc.

That is the fossil fuel desperation technology that scares me the most regarding climate change and ocean acidification.


I share your fears. But speaking as both a sociologist and an economist, I think the future is one of rising coal production and consumption over the next thirty years. IMO, Heading Out is 100% correct.

Alas, I think the U.S. will greatly expand coal to liquids production over the next thirty years in an all-out attempt to maintain Business As Usual (BAU) as U.S. oil imports decline at about the rate suggested by Westexas's Export Land Model (ELM).

I agree- we will use it until we can't.
Heading is right.

the future is one of rising coal production and consumption over the next thirty years

Do you mean 2040 for what kind of world peak coal? Total coal extracted? Or total mass of coal?
Anyway, total coal mass peak is :

2025 , Energy Watch Group
2030 , EIA

Anyway, the "energetic coal peak" is in the next few years and is the most important to cut down any modern tumoral economic growth. And it is not bad news.

I think we are going to mine all the coal we can given current and near-future mining technologies. After coal becomes uneconomic, my guess is that we will mine oil shale--perhaps with very cheap labor wielding pick axes, the way coal was mined in the olden days. Oil shale is sort of like very low grade coal in many respects.

Hold on a minute isn't this price idea the same as the one about oil?

Not really - the two fuels are at different points in their production cycle. Coal has long been used a a fuel, but was displaced by oil which is more energy intense and for over a century was a fungible commodity. The giant fields are now being depleted and competition for the remaining reserves (which are being supplemented by the increasing availability of what was the oil-resource of tar sands and deepwater) is reaching the point where the rising costs of production will likely constrain demand.

Even at today's prices the availability of coal is opening resources and turning them into reserves that will likely meet some of the international demands for fuel. But remember that coal is a fuel that is largely used for electricity generation, this is an entirely different scenario from that of oil, which is largely used as a transportation fuel.

Ok just to recap:. what you are saying despite coal's production growing over time it is not a genuine representation of a Hubbert type linearization because oil displaced coal in some important applications early on and left the coal in place. Furthermore since price rises in oil will drag the last of oil away from applications coal could fulfill such as heating these will spark prices rises in coal and increase reserves. This divergence in applications makes them less comparable or connected historically than some analysts would have us believe even if in the future coal is used for CTL applications.

Is that a fair short hand?


Thanks for the level-headed assessment of the coal situation. Like many, I am not looking forward to wider adoption of coal as our primary energy source. But our only hope for making intelligent decisions as a society lies first in having accurate information. There is too much 'garbage science' being published these days based on the inappropriate use of curve fitting models.

A local tidbit regarding coal. The port of Tacoma turned down the following coal terminal project based on environmental grounds. Good for them! Longview, however is a little more desperate for jobs.

Planned coal dock in Longview energizes debate

Tuesday, the county granted a shoreline-development permit to an Australian company that wants to build a shipping terminal in Longview. It would export 5 million tons of coal a year brought in by rail from Wyoming and Montana.

The project has thrust this small Washington county into the center of a new debate about fossil fuels: In a region where limiting greenhouse-gas emissions has become a regional priority — where a push for clean energy has led to an explosion in wind farms — how do regulators deal with plans to ship millions of tons of fossil fuels elsewhere?

The 416-acre site would be the first major coal-exporting operation on the West Coast, but probably not the last.


So is the Tacoma region going to stop using electricity - or even stop growing? Nice for self-righteous preening if they can have it both ways, but is having it both ways really scalable?

Here is a table of Tacoma's power sources as of 2007:

Fuel Type Percentage Used
Hydro Power 90.54 %
Nuclear 8.06 %
Coal 0.77 %
Natural Gas 0.39 %
Biomass 0.17 %
Wind 0.05 %
Solar 0.00 %
Other 0.03 %

My understanding is that the recent economic downturn has left them with hydro providing > 100% of current demand.

There is some talk in the state legislature about closing Washington State's one and only coal fired plant in Centralia.

I am so curious to what those 0.03 other percent of energy is. Some guy in his basement with his bicycle conected to a generator? How do they even measure something like that?

I'm working with a group from Pierce County (Tacoma is the largest city here) to define the energy future of this area. The biggest unknown and possible threat that we see is to the watersheds (snow packs) as a result of climate change, and hence to hydroelectric generation. The high reliance (see Jon's comment) on hydro may create vulnerabilities that will be hard to mitigate. At least people are starting to pay attention to the issues of peak oil and energy needed to sustain the area.

I wish I could convince TPTB that growth is not necessarily a good thing. But the belief in neoclassical economic ideas runs deep here!

That's all well and good, and indeed I'm agreed with Jon's remark that hydro is covering the electricity right now. But it all still begs the question of scale. Hydro is a very small fraction of US energy with not a lot of room to grow. So it's nice that leaders in one tiny region can preen about it, but there's essentially no useful lesson in that for anyone else.

Excuse me PaulS. Who exactly is preening?

duplicate removed

"Stop growing" is the right plan. We need to switch to a steady-state economy. Our current system runs on the notion that the more we consume the happier we are, and we should have no limits on producing more people and consuming (consume means destroy) more of the natural world every year, until it all falls apart. Could we get real?

The research is in: (1) More money has a minimal contribution to happiness, after basic needs are met; (2) egalitarian societies (like the U.S. is NOT) are happier and healthier across the board; (3) (okay this is anecdotal) we are killing ourselves, including cancer, ADHD, degenerative diseases, everything except accidents and contagious diseases - and all that is good for business, contributes to the GDP. Does anybody besides me remember when we didn't know a single person with cancer? 50 years does that for me. ADHD, ALS, EI, MCS - I can't possibly list all the diseases that are, for practical purposes, new in my lifetime.

How to convert all those houses to super-insulated energy-producers when the majority doesn't believe it? How to harvest our garbage (not our corn) for biofuels while we still have garbage (meaning, before starvation sets in because we ran out of transportation AND petroleum-based fertilizers)? How to scale up backyard food production so we actually avoid starvation?

What we can have both ways (if we get to work) is simpler lives, less consumption, less travel, and a lot more time with our neighbors and families - which (research says) leads to happier people.

We cannot solve this problem with the level of thinking that created it. If we assume growth is necessary, we are acting like cancer and will kill our host - the ecosystem.


If your to do list has any openings on it...

I would welcome an in-depth investigation into the coal resource size/composition/availability in Alaska.

I have heard that the Alaskan coal resource is huge, but difficult to get at (because it's in Alaska) and low-grade. Could there be a future of massive CTL plants in Alaska and VLCCs bringing this liquid to the lower 48? What price per barrel would be enough to bring Alaskan coal on-stream?

If that has been covered on TOD, does anyone have a link?

That's the picture I got. Large reserves, but no good spot to build the harbour facility needed to get it out. Siberia has the same problem; large reserves but no people living there, no infrastructure, and huge distances to cover. As of today, these are stranded coal reserves. Maybee some day some technology change or just desperate needs for energy may do something about it.

"Siberia has the same problem ... no people ... "
But if we go gung ho for coal, global warming will give Siberia a sub-tropical climate, and the people will come.

Without any climate change, quite a few Chinese would move to Siberia. Only the Russian Army prevent this migration ATM.


I fully expect Eastern Siberia to become a defacto province of China in the next few decades. The Russians may be OK with the Chinese working the coal, oil and gas fields in exchange for some royalties.

The Russian army is far superior to the Chinese army, both in training and equipment. China's army is up to defensive measures and maybe another invasion of N. Korea. China would need a numerical superiority of at least 7 to 1 to successfully invade and occupy Siberia. They simply do not have an extraordinarily numerous or very well equipped army and air force. The Russian air force could destroy the Chinese air force in a matter of days. The Russians also have more and way better tanks than do the Chinese. Russian artillery is very strong and has been since the Napoleanic Wars. Just ask Napoleon. Or just ask Gustavus Adolphus. Or for a recent example, look what happened when Hitler tried to conquer the Ukraine and Russia.

Only a complete nutjob would invade Russia.

However, collapse a dozen or so major tunnels and bridges on the Trans-Siberian and BAM (Baikal-Amur) rail lines and the ability of the Russian Army & Air Force to continue functioning will be time limited (especially if half completed repairs or work arounds are damaged before they are useful).

Except the Strategic Missile Command will remain functional.


Everything you say may be correct, but your comment has nothing to do with my post. I believe the Chinese will be invited (Trojan Horse).

Or for a recent example, look what happened when Hitler tried to conquer the Ukraine and Russia.

Here i have to disagree.

The main reason Hitler (Germany) failed was - as allways when nations / populations with a comparable technological level fight each other - democraphic supremacy. Germany had about 16 million male beetween 18 and 39 (total population about 75 million incl. Jews). Russia (better: Soviet Union) was growing very fast in the first half of the 20th century because of superior birth rates to Germany (and nearly all developed European states). Even Stalins purges didn't chance the outcome. The SU had about 190 million people when Hitler invaded. More than 35 million males aged 18-39. And the coming generations under 20 outnumberd the Germans 3:1!

Like allways this was never really discussed. If Hitler had nearly the same numbers off soldiers (and population) like the SU Stalin would'nt have a chance. Never-ever. The Russian winter had not changed the outcome.

As allways. Pure democraphy. But never discussed...

The truth is half ways.

-Germany had a 2 front war.

-Russia were on their own territory == shorter supply chains.

-The cold killed of loads of germans but few russians.

This indicating you are wrong.

-But the russians had 3 million men in their reserve army never sent into battle.

-The russians had Stalin as surpreme commander, whos incompetense costed millions f soldiers lives.

Indicating you are right.

What prevents the Chinese from populating the North of their own country?

Population density of China

I think it's mostly that there is not much up there. Much of it is desert, and not great cropland.

It must be tempting--
Denuded, environment up to the Amur River, and a intact forrest for thousands of miles on the other.
China is not even remotely survivable, merely the last great industrial power. A dinosaur looking to mate.

But if we go gung ho for coal, global warming will give Siberia a sub-tropical climate, and the people will come.

With just a few degrees of warming and Siberia will turn into a vast bog. Eventually it should dry out, but the change in the human condition will already have run its course by then. Thawing tundra is not a place most people would want to live.

Here in Alaska there are indeed plans to mine coal. The wind resources are beyond your wildest dreams, but some people would rather ignore the wind and dig holes to ruin our pristine wilderness. By the way, even though we're a source of oil, we don't have our own refineries and gas is high. When the crunch comes, there will be some kind of fight to keep any oil here.


They also want to dig up Bristol Bay and mine gold and copper. Its home to the largest wild Sockeye salmon run on the planet. This is beyond stupid. Just amazingly dumb.


I can imagine where the coal is located. It will turn paradise into a toxic waste dump.

"It is thought that deep seams run for miles underneath the Canonbie area and could yield 400 million tonnes of coal, enough to keep the Longannet power station going for the next 80 years."

You may note that the 400 million ton figure is twice the volume that BP considered the totality of the British Reserve in 2005.

The predictions of the imminent death of the Coal Industry are likely thus to be somewhat premature.

I find it unbelievable how people use sales pitches to form the backbone of their argument. MSM OK, but please not on TheOilDrum.

The Canonbie coal seams do not belong to the true Coal Measures as has hitherto been supposed, but are regularly intercalated with the members of the Calciferous Sandstone series.
The strata next in order are of Permian age which are invariably separated from the Carboniferous rocks by a marked unconformity. Indeed so violent is the unconformity that we find the Permian strata to the E of Lochar Moss stealing across the edges of the Calciferous Sandstone beds till they rest directly on the Silurian rocks.

Scottisch Coal (SRG) has several coal projects listed on their website, but Canonbie is not one of them. In fact a search of their website for "Canonbie" produces no results.

A spokesman for UK Coal said it had no plans to look at any of Scotland's mothballed pits. "We recently spent a lot of money trying to re-start a mothballed pit in England before having to abandon it, he said. Deep mined coal is becoming viable, which is why we are looking at Haworth, but Scotland's pits have problems which make it harder to see the justification."

Please use facts to lead to conclusions.

I might be nit-picking but some of HO's British example also seems odd to me. In 2006 imports were 50.5Mt and usage 67.5Mt. Imports had more than doubled over 6 years since 2000.
More recent years have seen a reduction in use of coal in UK power stations because of price in favor of natural gas, hence reductions in coal imports. However, UK coal production has continued to decline and is below the 20.5Mt mined in 2005.

From http://ec.europa.eu/competition/consultations/2009_coal/uk_coal_mining_e...
UK Coal Statistics
(Million Tonnes)
production; imports; consumption;
2006 18.5 50.5 67.5
2007 17.0 43.4 62.9
2008 17.9 43.9 58.2

Longannet power station IIRC is currently served by a network of mines connected underground below the River Forth, but is situated more than 60 miles from any mine at Canonbie. I presume considerable investment would be needed in a sufficient rail link.

UCG seems to be running into plenty of problems
Those chemicals appear to be similar to those used in shale gas fracking. Remember there is very little control over what happens underground, a problem also plaguing dry rock geothermal. The gas that comes to the exit pipe is full of CO2, N2 and H2S that either detract from heating value or sap net energy via scrubbing. I predict UCG will go nowhere.

Australia is an A-grade bull artist when it comes to carbon cuts. Recall during the Copenhagen climate conference when Obama invited the then prime minister Rudd to give the lead speech. Since then Australia mothballed its cap-and-trade scheme and a parliamentary committee will use the whole of 2011 to consider a carbon tax. Meanwhile ports, rail lines and pipelines have been constructed to export more coal and liquefied coal seam gas. Australia is like a pimp who teaches Sunday School.

Hi Dave,

Thank you for your post. On my web site that you linked


there is a new paper on long-term coal supplies for the International Journal of Coal Geology that is in press. I was planning to work up a post for it for The Oil Drum later this week. You have teed the ball up nicely. The only comment for now is that the curve-fitting approach has evolved to the point that I do not think it is appropriate to call it Hubbert Linearization any more.



Please don't take my cranky 'garbage science' comment personally. I do appreciate the care with which you've applied curve fitting methods and actually done some testing of their predictive power. Kudos! I am just very down on the "multi-cyclic hubbert linearization" approach as I've seen it used a couple of times recently.



We look forward to it Dave. One thing I may have learned is that past production also describes socio-economic conditions (that might change) in addition to geology and resources / reserves. The conversion of resources to reserves is of course a socio economic process.

I'll try to get the UK - "lots of coal remaining" - lobby to engage in the online process. I still don't know where the truth lies.

I have just been reading the paper at Dave R's link, which contains the arresting sentence: "The last time British coal production was this low, Napoleon was alive."

Thanks HO, for insisting on being intellectually honest about availability of coal. Many here don't want to believe that there is so much coal actually existing in the ground. Re-reading your position, is refreshing. Hiding the fact about coal won't make the fact go away.

Why do so many reports have the reflex of plotting a symmetric curve ?
- and one with a sharp peak, at that.


It is so clearly false, that it detracts from any argument they might have. Do they not know there are many other curves, and sharp peaks are very rate in any complex system.
To occur, they need a shock impulse, and coal certainly lacks that.

More likely, are skewed curves

What coal has, is more a general lack of enthusiasm, for the costs and effects, especially in the western world.

These curves both show that.


Which equally means, if the enthusiasm shifts, so too can the volumes.

What coal has, is more a general lack of enthusiasm, for the costs and effects, especially in the western world.

This databrowser chart shows Western Europe's consumption of all fuels in percentages. Coal has gone from over 50% of the energy mix in 1965 to around 15% today while natural gas has picked up most of the slack.

Natural gas is a much better fossil fuel than coal as long as it is cheap and readily available. The real question is: "For how much longer will this be the case?"

I agree with jg_ that the enthusiasm may shift unless we find a whole lot of conservation and green energy opportunities over the next decade.


" cheap and readily available"

\n(population for current political boundaries)

From WolframAlpha.
When I was born in 1951 there were 2.56 Billion souls on this planet.

The rate of increase in the population is coming down. (WolframAlpha)

Searching around desperatly for a solution for my grandchildren I find two rays of hope and one shaft of gloom.

First the good news.
1 We have managed to get condensed matter nucleonics to produce 20W of excess power. Laughably small but a hope.
2. Advanced photocells.

And then the bad news.
We have a brain designed for the Pleistocene and Holocene.

And thin a ray of hope.
We are a work in progress.
There is evidence (schizophrenia) that Mr Darwin is trying to come to our rescue in this respect, but the birth is slow and painful.
I just wish that you Nermals would Leave them Kids Alone.
Don't mess with what you don't understand.

"...Coal pipelines are an alternate way of doing it, but oddly, whenever the technology reaches a point of serious discussion freight costs seem to reduce, at least temporarily...."

Access to the coal and the ability to move coal economically will determine the users cost and may prevent some coal from ever being mined. Although pipelines can move coal in a slurry state, the amount of water close by the mine determines the economics. In the US during the late 1970's and early 1980's a couple of coal pipelines were proposed to take western coal to the midwest. The plan was shot down because the amount of water coming from upper reaches of the Missouri River was more than the northern plain states wanted to relinquish. The upper Missouri reserviors and channel play a key role in providing water for crops and rangeland.

So, if the coal mining areas of central China don't have ample water resources, and central China has had drought problems in recent years, the pipelines will not be built regardless of the competing transportation cost, IMO. Thus, the transportation issues of coal also play a part in the economics of producing coal for the market, and hence the quantity of reserves. As a footnote, the Powder River Basin coal (US) that is used by some eastern/central utilities cost more to ship than the cost to purchase at the mine.

Coal-fired power plants do not self-ignite. The burners at the end of pulverizers require some type of fuel like natural gas or pink diesel lit by a large electrode. So, even if coal lasts forever what are you going to light it with? Biofuels? I don't know the distribution of diesel/natural gas burners, but most of the plants here in WV use diesel. We can go through quite a bit on a startup. Load changes often require putting in/taking out a pulverizer; natural gas or diesel is required at those times in order not to blow the furance up (black furnace). The availabilty of coal doesn't look as good when looking at the current systems in place. I didn't see it anywhere in the other posts.

So, even if coal lasts forever what are you going to light it with? Biofuels? I don't know the distribution of diesel/natural gas burners, but most of the plants here in WV use diesel.

If you are going to pull-in other fuels, surely ignition is the least of the problems. Even a small Coal to gas plant in the corner, should give enough for starting ?

A more serious other-fuels bottleneck has to be transport, but even there, steam trains are 'mature' technology.

This would require construction of massive scale in CTL to switch over hundreds of plants, which is not happening as of yet. Retrofitting fuel-oil burners to natural gas seems like a better option, but would also require major outages and tons of capital. Some burners can use gas or oil to light off; some cannot. I agree with you completely about the transport side of things. I just wanted to bring to light a lesser known impact of Peak Oil on coal-fired plants, that's all.

What are you going to light it with? CTL (coal-to-liquids).

This technical problem is analogous to the problem of getting a nuclear power plant up and running without another power plant supplying the electricity needed to run the circulating pumps and control electronics. That is a serious problem according to some commentators. Getting pulverized coal to ignite without liquid fuel may be a problem now because liquid fuel is so cheap that no one has thought to waste money developing an alternative ignition method. But really do you really believe that this is a killer objection? Maybe have a little low tech brazier in which you ignite some brickettes made from powered coal. Or maybe don't pulverize all the coal. Keep some as chunks to start an ignition fire. Or maybe dedicate a minute or so to thinking about the problem, and come up with dozens of better ideas.

Diesel engines have been run for up to 700 hours on a 50% coal water slurry with the coal reduced in size to below 5 microns. It is possible with very few relatively inexpensive fittings to take coal from 1-cm particle size down to micron size using a pressure washer you can buy in a department store for about $100.

pictures and RPM/torque curves please.

This is silly enough to work, and it would be worth replicating using high-sulphur coal dug out of a river bank with ethanol made from a coal-fired ethanol plant instead of water purely for the shock value to environmentalists and peak everything doomers.

You never have that problem in a coal dust explosion, so why should it be such a problem in a furnace?

This is a bit silly. We can obviously use soylent biofuel (aka, leftovers from the massive population die-offs) to light the furnaces.

Now, to be realistic, you can pay $10-$15/gallon (inflation adjusted) to light off the burner if you really still need it, and that price will find *some* source of liquid fuel other than CTL. My bet is you can get all the biodiesel you want at $7.50/gallon before then.

The mass of Earth's atmosphere is 5x10^15 tons, so if we burn all the coal available CO2 concentration will be:

Reserve (663 billion tons): 877 ppm CO2
Resource (10,750 billion tons): 8,140 ppm CO2

*1 ton coal = 3.6 tons CO2 + the 400 ppm already in the atmosphere.

The legal limit for CO2 concentration is 5,000 ppm in the passenger cabin of commercial jets.

Approximately half of the fossil CO2 emitted into the atmosphere will be absorbed by the oceans. When the atmospheric concentration of CO2 reaches about 1,000 ppm, hydrogen sulfide might begin bubbling out of the oceans causing some other problems (like death) that might prevent us from burning all of the coal.

Toxicity of Carbon Dioxide Gas Exposure, CO2 Poisoning Symptoms, Carbon Dioxide Exposure Limits, and Links to Toxic Gas Testing Procedures

At 1% concentration of carbon dioxide CO2 (10,000 parts per million or ppm) and under continuous exposure at that level, such as in an auditorium filled with occupants and poor fresh air ventilation, some occupants are likely to feel drowsy.

The concentration of carbon dioxide must be over about 2% (20,000 ppm) before most people are aware of its presence unless the odor of an associated material (auto exhaust or fermenting yeast, for instance) is present at lower concentrations.

Above 2%, carbon dioxide may cause a feeling of heaviness in the chest and/or more frequent and deeper respirations.

If exposure continues at that level for several hours, minimal "acidosis" (an acid condition of the blood) may occur but more frequently is absent.

Breathing rate doubles at 3% CO2 and is four times the normal rate at 5% CO2.

Toxic levels of carbon dioxide: at levels above 5%, concentration CO2 is directly toxic. [At lower levels we may be seeing effects of a reduction in the relative amount of oxygen rather than direct toxicity of CO2.]

Since indoor concentrations of CO2 tend to be several times higher than outdoor concentration, we may have increased cases of carbon dioxide poisoning before reaching 1,000 ppm.

Add to that the acidification killing off phytoplankton which manufacture 1/2 the world's oxygen. A new estimate is that phytoplankton in the ocean is down by 40% from 1950
Poisoned by CO2 or starved for oxygen. Neither sounds very good for the future of the human species.

If I sleep under the covers, I wake up with headaches. I figure it has something to do with CO2 building up during the night.

Higher CO2 concentrations are good for plants (at least some). I believe they actually increase CO2 in some greenhouses for increased production.

Good one Sorensen.
I wonder when the burning of carbon will become a capital offense.
It will be up there with genocide.

Dave, framing this in terms of resources versus reserves is the correct approach IMO. I think a problem we have is a socio economic system built around increasing supplies of cheaper energy. Once we move to higher prices, this eventually pinches economy and we have recession, less taxes, lower social services etc, eventually leading to lower energy demand.

I had a quick look at Canonbie - lies on S side of Southern Uplands "a hundred miles" from Longannet. I'd guess the area is geologically complex. There is a railway nearby that goes north through Edinburgh, but the stuff will have to be lugged up hill first. Unless they take it by sea.

Longannet is supposed to close, so it may be smarter to build new supercritical power station where the coal is. No simple, cheap solutions.

Thanks for highlighting the difference between resources and reserves.

In theory, rising prices should convert more resources into reserves, but in the largest coal field in the United States that didn't happen. Between 2002 and 2008, in the Gillette coal field of Wyoming, while coal prices were rising significantly, the United States Geologic Survey reduced the amount of economically recoverable coal from 23 billion short tons to about 10 billion short tons.

The details are in the report, "Coal: Cheap and Abundant, Or Is It? Why Americans Should Stop Assuming that the U.S. Has a 200 Year Supply of Coal" which is available for free download from www.cleanenergyaction.org under coal supplies.

In the United States, of the top 15 coal producing states, they are all past peak except Wyoming and Montana. Wyoming may be peaking as production dropped in 2009 and 2010 is lagging behind 2009 as of Q2. This will need to be watched for several years to discern the effect of the economy. Montana is a much smaller coal producer and ranchers and others in Montana are not excited about tearing up their sustainable ranching operations to support short-term coal jobs.

Most of the major US coal mines have less than a 10 year life span and future expansions will face significant geologic, economic, legal and transportation constraints.

There is a large barrier to opening new coal mines (even ones that might appear to be "economical") and that barrier (on top of all the permitting issues) is money. Unlike oil wells which are relatively inexpensive to drill, coal mines are very expensive to open and they require long term markets to support the financing.

If you want to know the truth about coal production, don't argue over this report or that Hubbert curve or what should be economic, look at mine-specific cost and production curves. That is where the truth lies.

As for China, Peabody's July 23, 2008 8-K report noted (page 4) that over 60 coal plants stood idle at the time due to coal supply constraints. The Oil Drum readers probably know that China is now searching all over the globe for coal supplies and significantly increasing imports, as is India. (Just Google "Coal India Limited."

In the United States coal costs are mounting significantly, despite the recession, with most states seeing about 10%/year increases in coal costs as can be tracked from Energy Information Administration data.

More details available from the author or at www.cleanenergyaction.org under coal supplies.

Leslie Glustrom
Boulder, Colorado
303 245 8637

"Most of the major US coal mines have less than a 10 year life span and future expansions will face significant geologic, economic, legal and transportation constraints"

The most limiting factor in mining western coal will be transportation costs. The cost of the coal is rising with the cost of oil, as trucks and railroads burn diesel fuel exclusively to bring this fuel to midwest and eastern power plants. And the fuel factor is not just for those truck and locomotives engines.

In Klein, MT (near Roundup, MT) a coal mine lay dormant for 15 years after the Milwaukee Road tracks were abandoned in 1980. The state of Montana spent many millions of dollars (probably close to 50 million) rebuilding the 50 mile long highway & bridges from Roundup to Billings so the coal could be trucked to the new rail loading point. In the future will the state have the money to allocate to such a project, which may cost $200 million in 2020? My guess is no, and the mine's remaining coal will not be produced.

I believe this type scenario will be repeated across the world as oil prices go higher, so goes the extraction and transportation costs.

Thanks for highlighting the difference between resources and reserves.

In theory, rising prices should convert more resources into reserves, but in the largest coal field in the United States that didn't happen. Between 2002 and 2008, in the Gillette coal field of Wyoming, while coal prices were rising significantly, the United States Geologic Survey reduced the amount of economically recoverable coal from 23 billion short tons to about 10 billion short tons.

The details are in the report, "Coal: Cheap and Abundant, Or Is It? Why Americans Should Stop Assuming that the U.S. Has a 200 Year Supply of Coal" which is available for free download from www.cleanenergyaction.org under coal supplies.

In the United States, of the top 15 coal producing states, they are all past peak except Wyoming and Montana. Wyoming may be peaking as production dropped in 2009 and 2010 is lagging behind 2009 as of Q2. This will need to be watched for several years to discern the effect of the economy. Montana is a much smaller coal producer and ranchers and others in Montana are not excited about tearing up their sustainable ranching operations to support short-term coal jobs.

Most of the major US coal mines have less than a 10 year life span and future expansions will face significant geologic, economic, legal and transportation constraints.

There is a large barrier to opening new coal mines (even ones that might appear to be "economical") and that barrier (on top of all the permitting issues) is money. Unlike oil wells which are relatively inexpensive to drill, coal mines are very expensive to open and they require long term markets to support the financing.

If you want to know the truth about coal production, don't argue over this report or that Hubbert curve or what should be economic, look at mine-specific cost and production curves. That is where the truth lies.

As for China, Peabody's July 23, 2008 8-K report noted (page 4) that over 60 coal plants stood idle at the time due to coal supply constraints. The Oil Drum readers probably know that China is now searching all over the globe for coal supplies and significantly increasing imports, as is India. (Just Google "Coal India Limited."

In the United States coal costs are mounting significantly, despite the recession, with most states seeing about 10%/year increases in coal costs as can be tracked from Energy Information Administration data.

More details available from the author or at www.cleanenergyaction.org under coal supplies.

Leslie Glustrom
Boulder, Colorado
303 245 8637

From page 43 of Coal: Cheap and Abundant? (v1.1):

The accessibility of Powder River Basin coal is critical because the other large coal producing states appear to have already passed their peak production as shown in Table 7.

Figure 9 on page 22 shows the price of coal from Powder River Basin was not affected by the oil price shock of 2008, unlike the other regions (why?). Maybe the cheap coal from Powder River Basin is undercutting the price from the other regions causing production to shift away from them instead of their production having an all time peak.

Figure 3, Coal Production by Rank 1950-2006, on page 10 is a bit surprising showing the production of the higher EROI bituminous coal decreasing while the lower EROI sub-bituminous coal is increasing since 1991. Figure 2 indicates Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming contains sub-bituminous coal which makes me think Figure 3 merely shows the shift in production to the cheaper coal at PRB. If the shift to sub-bituminous was caused by approaching peak coal production in the U.S., then the price of the sub-bituminous would have to be higher than the bituminous. After the super cheap coal at PRB is depleted, the price will rise back to normal and production will resume in the other regions. The data is showing an economic issue, not a geologic constraint in coal production.

Heading out,

I'm very curious about the UK peak in coal production in the 1920's. What caused it? Why did the decline in production affect exports, and not consumption (which peaked 20-30 years later)?

Have you seen a data series of coal prices before WWII? That would begin to give us good information as to what was going on.

There's an interesting example of a coal mine that may be opened in the UK in South Wales, by Corus to supply coal on-site to their integrated steel works at Port Talbot. It was reported in The Independant on 10th Aug 2010. The article says:

"Corus is set to decide on a proposal to build a coal mine at its steelworks in Port Talbot in Wales within a year.

The company is this month pressing ahead with £6m-worth of geoseismic studies to scope out the scheme, which could cost hundreds of millions of pounds and create 500 mining jobs. If the plan goes ahead the Port Talbot plant will be the only steel factory in Europe to source coal on-site.

But it has never been extracted because it is buried at technically tricky depths of up to 1,000 metres. Thanks to improvements in mining technology and the ever rising cost of coking coal and transportation, the economics may have changed. And the deposit has larger, as-yet-unexplored areas which could increase the size of the project even further. "

It may be being opened in part because of the increase in transportation costs due to peak oil. And,in a neat twist, much of the steel output will be to make the pylons of wind turbines!

Although we could source the large bulk of our steel from scrap recycling via electric arc furnaces (I see lots of multi-ton lumps of potential recycled steel wandering about town :-), some new steel will be needed. And there is (AFAIK) no good substitute for coking coal.

Best Hopes for Limited Coal Use,