3000 billion tons of coal off Norway's coastline

In case you missed this over at Energy Bulletin
This summer, students from Norwegian University of Science and Technology analyzed data from 600 wells drilled on the Norwegian Shelf of the North Sea. They calculated that there are 3000 billion tons of coal off the Norwegian coast. Most of the reserves are located at Haltenbanken. This compares to today's proven and recoverable world reserves of 900 billion tons of coal.
If we suppose a CTL yield of about 3 barrels/ton (Miller, Coal Energy Systems, p274), the 3 trillion tons of coal under the North Sea corresponds to about 9gb of liquid fuels.

Update [2006-1-6 19:51:50 by Stuart Staniford]: Oops - I meant to say 9 trillion barrels of liquid fuels, not nine billion (ie around 4 times as much as linearization suggests is available in conventional liquid hydrocarbons globally).

Ok, that coal is a little hard to get at. Railway tunnels under the North Sea? Right now they're thinking smaller than that:
"By injecting oxygen, we can ignite the coal where it is. This will produce a mix of gas which we can recover and use for energy-production. The problem however, is that one of the components of this gas mix will be the greenhouse gas CO2. We have to research a lot before we can utilize the resource in a way that doesn't harm the environment."
Still and all, it makes it clear that the 2050 problem is not having hydrocarbons to burn, it's what it's going to take to get them, what's going to happen to the economy in the meantime, and what it's going to do to the climate if we put that stuff out of our tailpipes.
At this point does it matter if they find 3000 trillion tons of coal??



Its the same thing as realising that there are vast ammounts of deep sea oil in the 1950:s when the technology needed for exploiting it is nearly science fiction.

It makes it very clear that peak oil will not solve the global warming problems and more likely make them even worse.

It gives another degree of freedom for technological development and investment in engineering work to solve our energy needs. We quickly need to discover ways that both are doable and good enough for our environment.

"By injecting oxygen, we can ignite the coal where it is. This will produce a mix of gas which we can recover and use for energy-production. The problem however, is that one of the components of this gas mix will be the greenhouse gas CO2. We have to research a lot before we can utilize the resource in a way that doesn't harm the environment."

Cripes, this sounds to me like a terribly, terribly desperate way to harvest energy.

Look at the process of oxygen-blown coal gasification.  The similarities are remarkable, and the cold-gas efficiency can run 76% or more.
Just day-dreaming, but how about dissolving the coal and pumping it out? I'm not a chemist, and I don't know what coal dissolves in, but apparently ionic liquids can do the job:
Using a compound derived from a pine tree, chemists at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) have produced a new environmentally-friendly class of synthesized chemical compounds called chiral ionic liquids. These solvents are salts that are liquid at room temperatures, can be tailored to dissolve coal, crude oil, inks, plastics, DNA, and even rocks.Source
I wonder how they can call a compound that dissolves DNA and rocks "enivronmentally friendly".
This stuff really works:


ah yes, i'm sure it does.

from the website:

"Why aren't the ingredients of your products listed on the label?

A. Since all of our ingredients are non-toxic, it is not required. The revolutionary formulas for Drive Up and Revive A Drive are protected under the Trade Secrecy Act."

well, if it's all the same to you, i won't be splashing it anywhere near lifeforms.  

DNA is soluble in water, so I'm not sure how the description as being capable of "dissovling DNA" indicates, in any way, whether a substance is environmentally friendly or not.
As an organic chemist, the real problem I see is containing the ionic liquids, as many I've seen in the literature are very water-sensitive. So the technology would have to involve someway of either making the ionic liquid water-stable, or finding other solvents for extraction (like other hydrocarbons or even fluorinated solvents.)  
I read the original article and was impressed by the huge estimated size of the offshore Norwegian coal deposits.  But what I have no knowledge of is the concensus regarding the feasibility of doing in situ deep-water coal gasification.

Has this ever been tried on a pilot scale?  How deep are these coal deposits?  How do you go about doing gasification from an off-shore rig?

I'm sure that some of the anti-peak oil people will cite this finding as proof that we have nothing to worry about, so what I'd like to know is what is the state of the are regarding  offshore coal gasification?

Anybody out there who can make me smart on this subject?

To my knowledge, off-shore in-situ gasification has never been tried.  To tell the truth, on-shore in-situ gasification has never been done on a large scale.  
These coal deposits are located in an area where the water depth is 3-400 meters AND 2-3000 meters below the sea floor (below the oil and gas reservoirs on Haltenbanken).

According to one of the scientists it will be quite a challenge to harvest this coal, if ever.

If or when the price of oil shoots up to €1000 per barrel they'll do it, they'll get the stuff out of the North Sea. A barrel of oil, as every oil drummer knows,  is equivalent to 42 liters, so if you have an economy car that consumes €4.2 liters / 100 km and whose fuel tank has a capacity of 42 liters, you will be able to drive 1000 km for 1000 euro. That may seem exorbitant but it's less than half the taxi fare from Frankfurt Airport to Frankfurt city centre (9km, costs between €20 and €30) Even if you factor in depreciation costs, taxation etc, taking a taxi today in Germany is cheaper than driving a Twingo after the big enchilada. People will pay almost anything to drive a car rather than walk, cycle or use public transport. After all, even today they pay almost anything to take a taxi.

Yes, every oil drummer knows that 1 barrel has been, is and will hopefully remain 159 liters.

What will be the effects from € 1000 a barrel of oil, and how far into the future are we talking here?

A barrel of oil, as every oil drummer knows,  is equivalent to 42 liters
A barrel of crude oil or other petroleum product (abbreviated bbl) is 42 US gallons (158.97 litres)
I should point out that oil expands and contracts base on its temperature.
In other words, the fate of the earth may depend on whether we can grow biofuels for less than €1000 per barrel, or whatever it may cost to extract this coal from the North Sea.
Oops! Third sentence from last should of course read:

"... taking a taxi today in Germany is more expensive than driving a Twingo after the big enchilada."


3 trillion tons of coal equals 9 billion barrels of oil equivalent.  Did you misplace a few zeroes?  Sounds more like 9 trillion barrels  to me.

Typo - you are correct.
Isn't it 9 tera-bbls, not 9 giga-bbls?
Somebody beat me to it.  Thanks.
Assuming using CTL process, how should it be applied in situ 2-3 000 meters below the seafloor? This makes "Man on the Moon" projects look easy.
I'm no expert on tunneling, but isn't that feasible? The world's longest tunnels are 50km+ already. Norwegians are already past masters at this. If prices get high enough, it seems like it's just a matter of doing it, no? HO?
Yes, the Norwegians are masters at tunelling, but still we are here talking at depths below the sea level of 2 500 - 3 000 meters. From your post Stuart you may have noted that as of now the greatest depth below sea level tunelling has been done, as of now is approximately 300 meters.

No doubt that the tunells would be running 10's or perhaps 100's of kilometers.

Then you have to circulate huge amounts of air, pumping out massive amounts of water as it should be expected a continuous flow from the ocean above.

How many tunells would be needed to move coal that could satisfy a CTL plant of say 10 mb/d?

Where should the solid residuals be deposited? Someone in a Norwegian blogg proposed that one of the largest valleys in Norway, Gudbrandsdalen, could be used to dispose of the solids.

On the other hand the potential of 9 Tb of liquid fuels in a future with expected huge liquid deficits and thus spiralling prices could make many, and not only investors interested.

It could be an interesting exercise to try to estimate the EROEI for such a project.

I can feel a techie talk twitching at the edge of my senses.  Tunneling at that depth may or not be a problem, depending on the strength of the rock in the area.  The Homestake mine in Lead, S. Dakota, for example was down at around 8,000 ft and there are mines in South Africa that, I believe, went deeper (the record is around 3,500 m).  However the rock down at that depth is quite strong in those mines.  Around coal the rock is usually much weaker and is likely to fragment violently as the holes are generated.  (In Wales and PA the resulting flow is very much like a liquid even though it is actually pulverized coal). Even with the hard rock the pressures can exceed its strength so that it fails violently in what is known as a rock burst.  Keeping holes open then becomes a quite difficult problem, whether you are doing in-situ combustion (not nearly as easy as you may at first think), in-situ liquifaction or some form of mining.  Of the options the mining - done remotely and intelligently - might be the best option with a strategy of controlled collapse and collection.

Thanks for bringing some common sense to this thread.  Theoretically anything is possible, but many things are not commercially practical.  This seems to be one of them.  It takes someone with engineering expertise to point out what the critical hurdles would be.  It is the same real world issue as getting oil out of tar sands, or methane from deep sea.  People can imagine how to do it, and maybe even prove the concept but doing it as a business, with positive economic and energy return 24/7 is a stretch for me.

What puzzles me is why we spend so much energy and technology trying to making deep sea coal work.  Why not spend the energy, human capital and time capturing sunlight, wind, waste energy, etc.  Maximize energy efficiency, building design, transportation, etc. so they need less energy.  All those areas are under funded, have great potential and are ultimately more sustainable.

Excellent question.  Is this a phenomenon of the energy specialists doing what they know (since most energy is fossil these days), taking the easy path (powering vehicles from coal takes a CTL plant, which is one new step; powering vehicles from wind and solar requires the production plus electric vehicles, which is two steps), or something else?
I think it's more a case of a bunch of technical people having fun with an interesting new idea to think about than a statement of policy, or that it's actually a good idea to burn all that coal, could we figure out a way to do so.
Well, in West Virginia we blow off the tops of mountains, fill in the valleys with the scrap, and take out the coal.  So what would be the analogy here?  Maybe we could drill a nuke down below it, blow it up, and then dig up the loose stuff that comes up.  Sigh - I fear whatever scheme is dreamed up, it will be an environmental disaster.  
The coal deposits mentioned on Haltenbanken are located at 3-400 meters water depth and below 2 000-2 500 meters of solid rock (that is a total of 2 500 - 3000 meters below sea level).

To use nukes could probably result in fuels suitable for not still invented hybrid nuclear/coal power plants. :-)

They (the coal deposits) may as well be on the moon.

Does anyone remember the fresh water solution proposed about 20 years ago for NYC? Something about towing an iceberg south...

"As of 2003 the deepest mine is the East Rand mine at 3585 meters"

"Many problems arise when digging so deep into the Earth. The most obvious is the heat. For example, at 5 km the temperature reaches 70 degrees Celsius(158 degrees Fahrenheit) and therefore massive cooling equipment is needed to allow workers to survive at such depths. Another problem is the weight of the rock. For example, at 3.5 km the pressure of rocks above you is 9,500 tones per meter squared, or about 920 times normal atmospheric pressure. When rock is removed through mining this pressure triples in the surrounding rock. This effect coupled with the cooling of the rock causes a phenomenon known as rock bursts, which accounts for many of the 250 deaths in South African mines every year."


For those of us who are not metric inclined.. ;)

"3580 meters = ~2.2 miles"


I would add that there's also the pressure of the overlying ocean to consider that must be factored too.
Well from the sounds of it if the Norwegians do manage to get it out they will be considering the CO2 problem, sequestration maybe? Better this occur in Norway than American, dont you think?

I doubt we will see this project starting before 2030, if ever. But still nice to know there is something which we could draw on in the future. Maybe put it to more constructive use than we do now.

What kind of gas do they expect to be getting from underground combustion?  CO?  Certainly they don't want CO2.
If feasible, let's go for it--developing that coal (as CTL). That should improve the climate change outlook considerably.
I will try and find the link but not at home now - if memory serves, there was a 2001 paper that showed the total greenhouse gas emissions from CTL compared to an equivalent amount of crude oil was just over 2-1.
The truly great tragedy that is going to befall us in the 21st century is that our ever more desperate efforts to continue feeding our addiction, rather than abating it it, will result in escalating destruction of the environment ---and at the end we will still be left wtih the need to come off it, except that all possibility of doing so gently and comfortably will have been destroyed.

The reason for this is that while the substance we are addicted to is finite, there many different substitutes available, ever more highly priced and with ever worse side effects. If there were only oil, and all knew that when it is gone it is gone, it would be easier.

I am an expert in this area. It's why I keep my refrigerator empty at night, why there is no food in the pantry, why my wife doesn't bother even trying to hide food---she knows I will find it. We are doomed.

It almost sounds easier to go and fetch methane from Triton.

Never say never though.  I fear that people will figure out a way to build offshore platforms to exploit this.

it was rather disturbing to read this when it first came out on EB.  i fear that this discovery will go the way of methane hydrates: technologically unlikely, environmentally disasterous, and prohibitively expensive.  another false hope.  
Hi I've been reading for a
few months and was just
inspired to create an

In addition to tunneling, or
trying to change the state
of the coal, there might be
another alternative.

Couldn't they consult with
the Duch on constructing a
circular dyke on the area
they want to mine?

I suppose the water might be
too deep but this seems like
it might be an atractive
idea.  If they can adjust
the buoyancy of the dyke
they could potentially move
it around to new sites.

Crazy or so crazy it just
might work?

That would be an impressive construction project. The worlds' highest dam, Rogun in Tajikistan, is 335m.
The structure you want to build is called a "cofferdam."

And you are correct: the water is too deep. Cofferdams are not feasible at the depths we're talking about here.

 i was thinking the same idea. it would require alot of time. but it can be done. i don't think it's crazy!
Nergyman2000 was saying the stuff is in 1000 feet of water, so that's one hell of a dike required. More like a new range of hills. Course there will be a lot of tailings from this operation....

Hmmm. Maybe just do deep shaft underwater mining. I'm sure HO could design an underwater coal cutting machine, and he was talking the other day about seeing mining machines operated during a conference demo thousands of miles away so maybe it wouldn't require that many divers. And no risk of explosions! :-)

Why don't we just get out the super duper climate buster and send the earth into super global warming overdrive and KILL EVERY GODDAMNED THING.

Can we please get a break from the damned engineers? Anymore fixes and we might as well just shoot ourselves.


This deposit figure is pie in the sky like the figures for clathrates.  The students need to get some on the job experience.
Good on ya, Cherenkov!

A definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing while expecting diffefent results.  

The "same thing" in the current situation is the technofix attempt to 'solve' the problem of peak oil. Why? --because it's coming from the same paradigm (of constant "progress" and "growth" and narrowly-focused techno fixes) that got us into this environmental/population/climatological/and cultural-insanity mess in the first place.

Just as abundant, cheap petroleum and natural gas had unintended consequences (urban sprawl, vast overpopulation, pollution beyond belief, and a voracious appetite for consuming every living and non-living resource in sight) so will there be unintended consequences from any massive undertaking to retrieve any other form of fossil fuel from such demanding environments as 2,000 feet below the North Sea floor.  

In time, we will all get a break from this paradigm, even as many diehards go down in flames trying to perpetuate it.  


But Engineering, especially back of an envelope level, is fun!

Maybe the solution to the world's problems is to shoot all engineers and doctors.

Maybe the solution to the world's problems is to shoot all engineers and doctors.

But then who will drive all the trains?

The major problem with coal based methane is getting rid of the salt water in the coal to depressurise the coal and allow the methane to desorb.
If you are in the middle of the North Sea, getting rid of the coal's interstitial water is not going to be a problem. If you are in the North Sea, getting wind or wave power is not going to be a problem. If the wind is blowing when people need power, there it is. If the people don't need power, then dewater some coal to get gas. And when the wind is not blowing and people need power, you have the gas!
Since Norwegians are smart and they aren't making plans to do this already, it must not work. Probably because you need lots of wells to dewater the coal and drilling wells in the North Sea will cost too much.
Well, I really hope some clever bastard figures out how to dig this stuff up and burn it, post haste!  That should ensure a level of global warming that would make Venus blush.

Let's spare our kids the trouble and just nuke ourselves now.  The cockroaches will be thankful to have us out of the way for good.  Let's give another species radiation a chance for self-awareness.

3000 billion tons of coal corresponds to around 2000 cubic
kilometers of volume.  Assuming a generous 10 m seam thickness this translates into a contiguous area of about 450x450 km.
Why would this coal deposit be so rich and unique compared to any of the other deposits on the planet?   This figure smacks of the same sort of overly generous estimates as you have for tar sands.  I doubt that this coal deposit is sitting in a nice consolidated volume that can be recovered as envisioned.  A zero should be dropped from this figure.  I don't believe that 600 wells are sufficient to characterize this deposit and seismic survey is needed.
  1. Few open pit coal seams are as thin as 10m. We open pit mine 50m seams. Underground seams are always more than 1m.
  2. Coal seams are virtually always 'stacked', as in one seam next to another for 100s of meters, interspersed with other layers of rock, shale, etc.
  3. If you look at a map of coal fields, offshore Norway is not the largest area around. Coal and shale fields are not the size of mingy little oil fields like Ghawar. Ghawar is only a few hundred square kilometers.
This discovery begs the question: where else on the planet are similar deposits? In other words, how many ocean basins are old enough to contain prodigious amounts of coal? I would look at the outer edges of the Atlantic basin for starters, especially in the equatorial regions off Africa and South America. Then I would look at the margins of other spreading centers.

Any attempt to develop such finds would likely cost trillions for a relatively meeger net-energy profit at an enormous environmental cost. But as the on-going mountain leveling in West Virginia proves, such things are done regardless.

You know...We ought to just get some nukes -- I'm sure we got some laying about somewhere -- and just put them on down in holes we drill down to the coal and then we just blast a gi-freaking-normous chunk of this coal bed up onto the shore. Don't worry about poisoning the rest of the planet because lord help us if we can't speed our FAT ASS AMERICAN BUTTS from Mal-Wart to Mal-Wart buying more useless soul killing CRAP in our earth killing SUVs. Gosh, I can't think of anything more important than providing work for the planet destroying engineers who think that creating a faulty fix is better than leaving well enough alone. Can't anyone -- ANYONE -- out there see how stupid and arrogant this is? Why are engineers so damned STUPID? Why can they not see the BIG PICTURE? Why are they so damned MYOPIC?





Well.. it is like the frog in the pan that is slowly being cooked. Only when the frog is getting pain, it will try to act. Just like us fat chinese, european and US bastards. If we burn all the carbon on the planet, the surface temperature will be like on Venus...;-)
I can't help agreeing with most of this sentiment. This civilisation is not worth saving in its present form. The people are (worth saving that is)no question. Think of all the great civilisations that preceded ours but with a fraction of the energy available. We don't need all this consumerist crap (and yes I could quite happily live without a computer) and we shouldn't want it. Maybe many of the people who post on PO blogs need to think less about techno-fixes and get out there and get your hands dirty. Just like peasants.
There are two sides to the Peak Oil Problem - the supply side (running out of easy access to liquid fuels) is what is most often discussed here at TOD). The demand side deals with human nature, sustainability and how to transition to a world of lower energy footprint.

To me, finding SOME coal, SOME nuclear and some combination of alternates is a necessary evil to make sure the coming gap is not too wide - with too wide of a "Hirsh Gap", the planet is really in trouble (nuclear bombs, getting methane hydrates at all costs etc.) I dont view coal or anything else as a PERMANENT solution to replace oil - just enough to avert a total societal mess, when smart people can still read internet blogs and travel to make decisions.

The answers to Peak Oil lie partly with engineers (supply side) and partly with social scientists and the rank and file (demand side). Clearly, to just replace one fossil fuel with another that is deleterious to planetary health just adds a (very) short delay to the catastrophe.

In sum, I get the sense that some here are voicing that we not look at all for alternative energies and that the Peak Oil calamity is baked in the cake -I disagree -we need the best environmental EROI options we can find to address the supply problem and then focus on altering our perceptions of what it means to collectively 'be happy' on the demand side

You hit the nail on the head.  What we need to all be doing right now is building a new civilization based on the design and principles of nature.  There are already small "outposts" on the frontier of "modern" civilization, learning new ways of living such as permaculture and living in a low-energy environment.
Oh, shut up about blaming engineers.  I'm a father and husband first, and an engineer second, and I have no interest in drilling ANWR or attempting to get this coal.  But, there are 6.8B (got it right this time) people in the world, and two of them are my kids.  They need to eat, and we cannot feed all of them without large inputs of fossil fuel, at least in the reasonable near term.  If there is to be a way out of the box we have overgrown ourselves into without disaster, then it must entail a gradual reduction in our population and energy use, which in turn means we'll still need large amounts of energy for a long time.  We won't be able to transition instantly to non fossil fuel methods, even nukular (sorry!) power. All of which means we will have to continue using large amounts of fossil fuel for a while, or else people will starve.  I do not, however, believe that developing things like this will be needed.

And as far as engineers go - who do you think will be designing the public transportation, alternative energy system, better insulation, etc. that we will need?  Lawyers?  Musicians?  Football players?  The bind we are in is no more the fault of engineers than it is of any one group - it is our inability to overcome our genetic programming.

What do YOU do?

Stop population growth.

Then reverse it.

Mandate localization.

Mandate energy saving.

We do not need to find more energy to fuel a massively screwed up system -- that is insane. We need to use the already IMMENSE stream of energy we have in a more responsible manner. If we mandated car-pooling, just mandating that you must travel with another person or face a fee, then you cut your transportation fuel use in HALF!!!

Imagine that. Look ma! I'm an engineer!!

The solutions should trend toward the simple, with the first solutions being reduction. Just quit using so much.

The funny thing is, IT IS NOT REALLY THAT HARD.

What is hard is prying the reins of power out of the money grubbing elites' hands and convincing a few hundred million right wing media saturated consumer zombies that they have to make the change. And, God forgive me, I don't belief that waiting around for the people vote themselves off Consumer Island or the idiot hand of the market to sweep in the next big thing will be prudent.

The Manhattan project was not simply voted in. There was no free hand of the market. It was the government. The government has to think beyond the tip of its lobbyist-infested nose and work FOR the people instead for the rich.

Encouraging the creation of yet another dead end entropy machine or the continuation of the ongoing entropy machine is tantamount to suicide.


Stop population growth.

Then reverse it.

Mandate localization.

Mandate energy saving.

Knock your socks off.  Sounds like a great idea.  And Engineers are preventing this how?  Learn how the world works - it is not engineers who make these things you complain about happen, nor are engineers getting rich off of it.  And while I admit we're a virile bunch, I don't think you can pin ALL of the population growth on us - we let the artists breed once in a while too.

Sounds to me like the social engineers need to get busy designing societies that work without so much energy - greed.

The reality is there is much work to do on both the supply and demand side, and engineers will have a role to play in both endeavors.

If we blame anything it should be the corporations. Large organizations are always needed to do the big stuff like building drilling platforms and phone networks. Corporations used to be under society's control, now it is the opposite. Corps. employ most of the social engineers, the public relations, perception management and advertising types. Humans are born into a social environment which they assume is normal. Corporations must profit is our "normal". Rarely does society set wages, markets or energy policy. The individual's choice is buy or don't buy. How many still believe voters and commoners control the path of anything?
No, I am not pinning it on the engineers. My experience with engineers is they are not the breeders on the planet. Kinda hard to find a mate when rubbing a shiny spot in the bridge of the nose keeping the reengineered (taped) broken glasses from slipping.

Engineers are not working towards integration with the environment. They look for technological fixes, thinking that that is just the way it is done. Unfortunately, as long as people are in the consumer zombie trance, they will clamor for the latest techno geegaw. So, no, the engineer is only fulfilling a ravenous desire for crap.

The one consistent social item of interest regarding engineers and their reactions to admonishment is their almost unanimous tendency to personalize the argument, to believe the argument has become about blame. "Not me, he did it," or worse, to feel that they personally are being attacked. No. This is not about you. It is about the DESTRUCTION OF THE PLANET FOR CHRIST'S SAKE.

So, when I say "engineers" are doing "X," that means that I am commenting on the prevailing social reality. The problem is not coming from the fringe, i.e. "us." The problem stems from the vast numbers of engineers who see all of life's little problems as just another tech problem awaiting a tech solution. Engineers must realize that they need to be phased out. First they must help with the deconstruction of the massive entropy machine. They must then help with the transition to earth-friendly living. Then they must reengineer themselves into earth stewards, people who know how the world works and how to best fit in with the microclimate where they live without creating a doomed entropy machine.

And you are right. We DO need to reengineer society and its expectations. The beautiful thing about a closed system like planet earth is that no matter what we do, the system will simply do what's next. Plug into the coal system and continue business as usual? Bye, bye Gulf Stream. The world swings towards a massive cooling and food production plummets. Mass starvation ensues. Problem solved. So I guess the engineers are inadvertently solving the problem, just not in a very elegant or efficient way.

The world is dying. Don't help it die.

Well, from a geological point of view, I think the earth has seen bigger problems than homo sapiens.

Maybe our species will enter a hard time very soon, but the world will get back on it's feed after we're done with mess'n around.

And besides that; we humans are also an animal product of nature. So one could argue that our acts are natural and the result of these natural acts IS the world, so no dying here at all, just evolution.

You are blaming a specific group/profession, one about which you are apparently ignorant.  You say it is the fault of the engineer for designing the things everyone wants.  Someone finances the project, markets it, workers build it, people buy it - but it's the fault of the person who designs it?  What kind of stupidity is that?  I know many engineers, and as a group they are no different - no more or less enlightened - than any of the rest of society.  If anything, it is the technically ignorant masses that have the greatest faith that technology will save us, and their demand for ever greater levels of comfort and convenience that drive the gadget development.  The consumption disease is not generated by the designers of the products; it is a social disease.  We all must change.

Perhaps you dream of a simpler life where we all live in harmony with nature, consuming far less energy from local, sustainable, non-polluting sources.  It's a nice dream - I share it and I'm probably closer to achieving it than most, but it won't fully happen in my lifetime or yours.  And there is an evil behind that dream - we have 6.8B people, and that lifestyle cannot generate enough food to feed them all, so to get there one must first go through a die off.  And I'm not willing to wish that on the world.    

I greatly admire the finely designed tools of the past.  Draw knives, planes, an axe, simple agricultural tools - these things were not created by elves, they were designed.  Their apparent simplicity is deceiving.  But were you going to light your cottage with an oil lamp?  What were you going to do for heat?  175 years ago, the room I'm sitting in had a dirt floor, single glazed windows that didn't seal, it leaked air like a sieve and had an inefficient cook fireplace.  The hills around here had little wood left anywhere.  And the world's population then was what?  The wood stove that's behind me now heats my whole house for hours on 5-6 logs.  That's technology at work, and it didn't just happen, somebody worked their ass off designing it - and yet we cannot all heat with wood.  If the idea of solar powered high efficiency lighting, higher performance insulations systems, passive solar houses, or wind & wave power is appealing, you'd better keep some of us stupid engineers around.  And some other engineers are going to need to keep trying to find ways to get fossil fuels out of the ground, or a lot of people won't live to see the climate change you (and I) fear.  

So face it - you are not going to wake up one day and be living in the Shire with Frodo and the gang thanks to the magic of PO.  There are real problems to solve, and a world full of real people who stand to suffer real misery if we cannot, as a society, figure out a path through the looming energy depletion, economic, social/political, and environmental/climatologically crises.  It will take all kinds, including engineers, and if you cannot figure that out, I see no further reason to discuss anything with you.

Excellent post! Thank you!

Even if we have to retrench economically, high tech will frequently be more efficient than low tech.

I have a mini-hobby of making oil lamps. You can make a very nice oil lamp out of an old floodlight bulb. Just break off the posts where the wires come through, fill it up with vegetable oil, stick in a twisted bit of paper towel, and light it.

Post-peak, I wouldn't want to use it. Burn food?!? No, a much better solution is to get a small solar cell, an LED, a small rechargeable battery or medium-large capacitor, a resistor, a switch, and some wires. It's a lot safer than an open flame, a lot more efficient, and will probably cost a lot less to operate.

"But we won't be able to build LED's post-peak!" Well, if you believe that, you might want to stock up on a few thousand LED's, which can currently be purchased for a few cents apiece.

The point is that products like metalized Mylar (for insulation), electronics, chemical monitoring kits, and so on will make life a lot better post-peak than it would otherwise have been. Life might even be better post-peak than it was pre-oil. A lot of high-tech products, including computers, will be worth using post-peak--even if energy is ten times as expensive.

And it's engineers that developed all those products.


I'm not an engineer of any kind though I know a few dozen.  You say your coments aren't about blame but if you're looking back at history and saying should have, could have, were stupid not to, then you're blaming someone.

The future we're moving into is going to take practical ideas of all kinds and that, at the core, is the job of engineers.  In the energy transition people here are looking at, the more practical energy saving/efficent using ideas the more lives coming out the other side in sustainable fasion.

It's not helping the world die, it'll be fine, it's helping our own families live that will be the work of engineers..... and all.

What is hard is prying the reins of power out of the money grubbing elites' hands and convincing a few hundred million right wing media saturated consumer zombies that they have to make the change.
Really easy if you have those reins instead, eh?
Look ma! I'm an engineer!!
You're a clown who can't tell the difference between an engineer and a dictator.  And you're still one of the stupid people whose choices are paying engineers to do the things you say you don't want instead of the things you say you do want.  Hypocrite.

I'm developing some low-cost energy-saving devices.  Buying some will do more for the world than posting here.

I am a retired engineer.  The major problem I see with the current technology/engineering approach is that, because of the way most engineers have been educated, solutions are developed mostly based on mechanical/reductionist principles as opposed to network/holistic principles.  Because of this imbalance we have "high productivity" monoculture and GM foods instead of "high sustainability" permaculture, over depence on fossil-fuels instead of renewable, etc.  To avoid further grieviously injuring the planet, solutions need to incorporate both approaches, and frankly higher education and the scientific establishment still don't get it.
You may have a point.  Engineers (and I am one) tend to see the trees, not the forest.  They tend to be detail-oriented.  (I am not, and was told by high school guidance counselor I'd never make it as a engineer because of it.  Well, I made it, but I'm definitely....different, in engineering circles.)
Engineers also come in intuitive and methodical models!  I'm the intuitve type, and I used to be worried about that, but over time I've made my peace with it - it has served me well.  I find teams work best when both personality types work together.  I tend to jump ahead and gloss over the details too much, so I like to work with people who will drag me back and keep me honest!  I recall a guy I studied with in collage who always  wanted to go back to basic theories, while I was more willing to accept, for the purposes of the particular homework problem,  that maybe gravity really did work, and we could go on from there.....
But the vast majority of engineers are detail-oriented.  That's why my guidance counselor tried to steer me away.

Research has shown that, for men at least, happiness on the job = happiness in life.  This is not as true for women, who tend to be more affected by their home lives - marriage and family.  But for men, who were the only ones studied for a long time, if they're happy at work, they're happy, no matter how their marriage or home life is going.  Conversely, if they're unhappy at work, they're unhappy, no matter how wonderful their family life is.

This being the case, there's been a lot of research on what makes people happy with their jobs.  One of the major factors is how well you fit in with coworkers, and that usually means thinking the same way they do.  That's why career counselors will give you personality testing, then see where you fall on the grid - because you're most likely to succeed and enjoy your work if you're working with people who think like you do.  

(So why did I end up in engineering, even though I didn't "fit"?  Because I don't fit anywhere.  200,000 occupations in the handbook, and none of them matched my personality, which is apparently a very unusual mix of artistic and technical.)

Why are engineers so damned STUPID?
The engineers are smart; they can do all kinds of things as long as someone's paying for it.  What they can't do is work without money.

The people who pay for some of those things are stupid.  That's you.

The North Sea is not a continental basin. It is the part of the continent of Europe that is currently under water. During the last ice age 12000 years ago it was dry or ice covered. The dredge trees off it all the time in the shallower parts. You never find coal in an ocean basin. Just on the continental shelf.
I second the questioning of dissident. 3000 billion ton. Is that possible? The whole world has only 900 billion tons. People have been digging this stuff out for thousands of years and found only 900 billion ton of this stuff. Some how a few college kids from Norway dig a few hundred holes and they claim they discovered 3000 billion tons!!

On closer look, this looks like a complete hoax!.. They claimed that 600 wells have been drilled on the sea. The coal is 300 meters under the water and then under another 2500 to 3000 meters of solid rock. So you would have to drill 600 holes each almost 3000 meter deep, in the open sea. And you do that just for a scientific exploration. No way that's possible. If they are talking about analysing data from existing oil production wells, then maybe the whole data analysis is just wrong and there is no coal at all. At least nothing comes out of the drilled wells. If any coal was drilled out of those 600 wells, we should have know it 10 years ago, not today. So it must be a hoax.


I assume that the data the students analyzed came from oil exploration (or production) wells.
Oh, I see you considered that, never mind.
You're all assuming that it would have to be humans doing the work.  Isn't that a little like assuming we have to have humans at the bottom of a drill shaft chipping away at the rock?  I suspect those pesky engineers will figure out a way for robotic and remotely controlled equipment to do that work.
C + O2 => CO2 (+energy)
This is another way of saying "for every ton of coal we shall be using two tons of oxygen".

If we knew the location of sufficient hydrocarbons to consume all the oxygen in the atmosphere, would we dig it up and burn it?

Assuming that the 300 billion tons is a legitimate estimate (though there appears to be considerable doubt here as to its accuracy), then it would follow that one does not need to be terribly efficient in terms of trying to get every available BTU out of the deposit. In other words, there is so much coal that one can be exceedingly sloppy about recovery and still get vast amounts of energy out.

That combined with the daunting task of actually trying to physically remove coal from deep beneath the sea bed suggests to me that the only technique that has the slightest chance of being feasible is some form of in situ gasification or perhaps some other in situ method for extracting hydrocarbons.

I vaguely recall some work using supercritical carbon dioxide to extract various goodies either from coal, tar sands, or something else. As  some of you may know, when carbon dioxide is pressurized past its critical point, it behaves like something between a liquid and a gas and also has rather powerful solvent properties. The depth would certainly be sufficient to maintain CO2 in its critical state, so I could evision a system whereby the CO2 was pumped down a ring of injection wells, have it migrate through the deposit to dissolve out HCs, and then be withdrawn from a ring of extraction wells. Just an idea, and perhaps a lot easier said than done, but I don't see a chance in hell of ever actually mining this stuff.  

The problem is that if you remove the coal, there is nothing to hold up the rocks above.  In a normal oil well, there is still a porous rock formation to hold things up.  With coal, it is solid hydrocarbons.

Eventually you will have extracted enough that you will have sea floor subsidence.  If you get enough, you could get seawater infiltration, and then the whole game is up.

And if a large enough section of sea floor fell away, you'd create tsunamis.
We would have to mine a lot of coal, for a long time, to get a big enough wave to surf on. Figure a hundred years and a few billion tonnes. Think of it this way, the volume of the wave is going to be smaller than the volume of the rock we remove. The North Sea has a coastline one thousand kilometers long so a one meter wave is going to weigh about one million tonnes of water and that corresponds to two million tonnes of coal, assuming a one hundred percent conversion from subsidence into tsunami.
We did get a Richter three earthquake from mining subsidence once, in Wyoming or Montana IIRC. Took a generation's worth of mining to build a big enough network of holes to rattle some dishes when it collapsed.
In the real world, under three hundred feet of rock, assuming that the rock is reasonably competent, and that you are using modern long wall mining, that is not a problem.
But then again in the real world we aren't going to be mining the coal anyway. There is plenty of on land coal to mine.
kjmclark above questioned whether they can use robotics to drill the wells. The answer is drill a well 2 to 3 kilometers into the rock, in the open seas of 300 meters of water. That's a major engineering project and can not be done using robots. They are done using manned rigs and platforms which floats above the water. So that's done routinely, but it's definitely not something cheap. A while ago I heard the news that they just drilled a well in the Caspian Sea, which came up to be dry (no oil). And that costed them $1 billion dollar. That's how expensive it is. And how un-reliable analyzation of data could be.

Those 600 wells seem to be existing oil production wells. It looks very odd to me. If you drill for oil. You reach the depth where the oil is, you would stop and not to waste by drilling deeper. So if the coal is further deeper. How do you know for sure, without drilling further deeper to retrieve the rock samples. If the coal is above the oil, then you would have collected plenty of coal samples before you reach the oil and we would have known the coal 10 years ago when the wells were first drilled.

And a rock formation where you find oil layer above coal layer, is VERY VERY odd, completely defying what we know today how oils and coals were formed, in terms of geology.

The whole thing is not very credible, especially when the data analysis is done by some college kids.

Actually, that's not what I was talking about at all.  We don't send people down into the end of drill rigs because it makes much more sense to remotely control drilling machinery to do it.  If people want the coal off the coast of Norway badly enough, people will mine it, but more likely with remote controlled machinery and robotic equipment than with people in the mine shaft.  The depths and danger will probably be considered too extreme to send people, but there isn't much stopping people from using machinery to do it.  

What's stopping this now?  The coal and people are cheap compared to the equipment needed.  If the coal became valuable enough, if there is enough energy to build the machinery, and if people were considered more valuable than the machinery or not capable of the job, I have little doubt that some company would start developing remotely controlled mining equipment to extract it.  

We don't pay attention to coal below a few hundred feet. Why bother? Lots of shallow stuff coal in this world. Oil is usually deeper than a few hundred feet, though it sometimes is close to the surface in a few lucky places.
We also drill tens of thousands of wells every year. The North Sea has hundreds and hundreds of wells.
Coal and oil are found near each other, or alone. Look at maps of oil fields and coal fields. They are both formed in sedimentary rocks. Oil is usually from sea source rocks, and coal is always from land source rocks. Sometimes the sea comes in over the land, sometimes the land rises out of the sea. That's when they form together. It's always on the edge of continents where the shelf is shallow, like, say, the North Sea.
The estimate of 3000 billion tons seems a bit optimistic, as many have pointed put here. There is, of course, offshore coal in many palces in the world, for instance in New Zealand and Japan. Japans most important, and now defunct, coal mines are under the sea. The coal was mined from a small island near the coast.

But offshore coal is not like offshore oil. It might be technically feasible to mine it - not now, but in the future.   But the the extraction would proceed very slowly, the extracted volumes would be relatively small and there will not likely be rapid growth. It is the flow that matters here.  

 ...Now, a new theory holds that OAEs (Oceanic Anoxic Events) - in particular the Toarcian OAE, which occurred about 183 million years ago during the age of dinosaurs - are triggered by the burning of vast underground coalfields. These coalfields were set ablaze by the intrusion of molten rock from the Earth's crust...

 "If the incredibly high global temperatures that occurred during the Toarcian oceanic anoxic event were caused by burning a significant amount of the Earth's coal deposits within one hundred thousand years, it doesn't take much imagination to realize what will happen if we burn most of the Earth's remaining fossil fuels over the coming century, which is what we are in the process of doing," McElwain said.


I think Micro is onto something here.

But, regarding Engineer Poet's enticingly simplistic missive:

The engineers are smart; they can do all kinds of things as long as someone's paying for it.  What they can't do is work without money.

The people who pay for some of those things are stupid.  That's you.

You are right EngPoet. Engineers will do ANYTHING for money: destroy the planet, make a better cell phone, improve the gonculator.

I have an idea. Rather than digging up all the coal and burning it at great expense in order to kill off humanity, let's just consult the greatest engineers of mass killing to ever live -- the Nazis. Surely we can learn from them.

Of course, this won't be as cool and won't involve mastaburtory back of the envelope calculations and pulp magazine renderings of undersea robots, but, hey, the Nazis did have cool uniforms. So cool, in fact, that we copied their helmets for our combat troops. Of course, that was problably done for some rational reason involving engineering.

Let's all sing a song!!! Deutschland, Deutschland, uber alles, uber alles, Deueueutschlaaaand!

That was uncalled for.  Most if not all scientists have limits to the things that they will do for money.  If an entire society goes insane, then the engineers living in that society could do things the rest of us find abhorent, but it wasn't the engineers that made the society go insane in the first place.

I think EP's point is entirely valid.  Engineers will build cell phones and XBoxes because people will pay for them.  We may well argue that it is a pointless waste of time and energy, but at the end of the day consumers still want this crap, and you can make a living producing it.

Engineers could design more sustainable living arrangements where you wouldn't need a car, but right now in 2006, how many people out there would want to live in the manner?  Until the public at large changes attitudes about living, Engineers will work on the things that people are willing to pay them for.  Engineers could even provide options and show how to build sustainable living arrangements, but consumer attitudes need to start to change first.

let's just consult the greatest engineers of mass killing to ever live -- the Nazis.
The fact that you are the one calling for a reduction in population (presumably by force) says something about the power of psychological projection.  (I think population stabilization is a good thing.  Gee, why not achieve this naturally, by growing food in fish farms which are education-intensive instead of labor-intensive?  This guarantees education and the knock-on fertility reductions!  Hey, why did it take an engineer to propose this instead of a soi-disant visionary?  Why aren't you paying me to develop this?)

I'm willing to kill people if they threaten to kill me.  I'm willing to take this to the scale of nations if the national ethos is behind the death threat, but that's as far as I go.  You place no such limits on yourself.

Or maybe it's just time to increase your medication.

This goes along with a theory of mine: that deep burrowing cold-blooded worms - similar to those in Dune - dug holes hundreds of feet down to those coal deposits so there would be oxygen to support all that combustion.  Or maybe it was burned by anaerobic fire.  They may have had that back then.  I think it went extinct.

Hell, what do I know?  It may just be that the Intelligent Designer burned the stuff by miraculous interdiction to get some carbon back into the atmosphere so he could start designing primate DNA.

"Hell, what do I know?"

I understand that if you are not a Nature subscriber, you cannot view the original 26 May 2005 scientific paper in Nature.  But did you even bother to read the free spacedaily.com link about the paper?

The combustion of the Antarctic coal seam 183 megayears ago is proven.  It was close to the surface.  It burned in the same manner as the Pennsylvania coal fires, some of which are over 100 years old.  The fires in Antarctica buring for about 100,000 years, causing a major extinction.

If only Mother Nature would apply some convenient lava heat to those inaccessible Norwegian coal deposits!  The coal would begin to distill, producing coal gas, a mixture of hydrogen and methane.  Water infiltration on the hot carbon would produce various proportions of hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and CO2. As CO is a direct poison and methane is a potent green house gas, we would be obligated to collect, oxidize, and sequester these gases for the sake of the environment.  Of course, we would get to burn the hydrogen too.
Where do you think anthracite coal comes from?
Santa Claus?!
"But offshore coal is not like offshore oil. It might be technically feasible to mine it - not now, but in the future.   But the the extraction would proceed very slowly, the extracted volumes would be relatively small and there will not likely be rapid growth. It is the flow that matters here."

It IS the flow that matters.  This deposit reminds me of the Polish lottery win - $3 million paid at the rate of $1 per day.  Not very useful.

I have a very basic spreadsheet that I modelled peak coal on and I originally used a URR of coal of 1000 billion tons and arrived at a peak in 2046.  I assume that coal to liquids replaces oil as it depletes.

I put in this new figure and the peak changed to 2086 however most chillingly the CO2 that results from this is 3.5 times the present level of 370ppm.

Again the sheet is very basic and probably is not correct however it gives an idea of how growth in demand can overwhealm any resource no matter how large.

You can have a look at it at:
and plug in your own numbers.

Sorry that should be 2075 not 2086.