UK Energy Trends, Coal

The DTI has recently published its quarterly Energy Trends report with data up to and including the first quarter of this year (2006). The report is available for download here: Energy Trends June 2006 (pdf)
The main points for the first quarter of 2006:
  • Total energy production was 4½ per cent lower than in the first quarter of 2005.
  • Oil production fell by 8½ per cent compared to the first quarter of 2005 as production from older established fields continued to decline.
  • Gas production was 4½ per cent lower compared with the first quarter of 2005. Gas imports and exports increased by 44½ per cent and 1½ per cent respectively. These figures reflect the decline of UK gas reserves. Gas demand was 1 per cent lower than a year earlier.
  • Total primary energy consumption for energy uses increased by 3 per cent. This was 3 per cent lower when adjusted to take account of weather differences between the first quarter of 2005 and the first quarter of 2006.
  • Final energy consumption increased by 2 per cent, with a rises in all sectors: domestic sector consumption increased by 4½ per cent, industrial consumption increased by 2 per cent; consumption in the transport and service sectors were both 1 per cent higher.
  • Coal production was 8 per cent higher than a year earlier. Coal imports were 29 per cent higher and at anew record level. Generators' demand for coal was up 17 per cent.
  • Coal supplied 18 per cent more electricity than in the same period a year earlier, while gas supplied 17 per cent less. Nuclear supplied 1 per cent less. Net imports of electricity were 31 per cent higher than a year earlier.
Just in case anyone missed it the first time:
Coal supplied 18 per cent more electricity than in the same period a year earlier, while gas supplied 17 per cent less.
Also note this equivalent statement from the previous quarterly report (link to pdf) covering the fourth quarter of 2005:
Coal supplied 13 per cent more electricity than in quarter four 2004 while gas supplied 12 per cent less.
This single point jumped out at me. The shift towards coal last winter was truly stunning. I wrote a lot last summer about how a colder than average winter would create a gas crisis which whilst not affecting domestic gas supplies would impact on industrial users with, in the extreme case, an impact on electricity supplies through CCGT closure. A year ago I didn't believe there was the flexibility for such large shifts in fuel from gas to coal.

The obvious problem here is the impact such increased coal burn is going to have on UK CO2 emissions figures. Coal produces a little over twice as much CO2 (~960 grams per kWh compared with ~460 grams) per unit generated electrical output as the natural gas it replaces.

These charts illustrate the dramatic changes taking place with UK electricity generation:

Click to enlarge.

Also note the 1.7% we import directly from France over a 2GW cable across the channel, basically two of France's Nuclear power stations work for us selling us very expensive electricity. The interesting thing is that in just one year the amount we import like that has increased from 1.3% to 1.7% - a 31% increase!

On Oil:

Total UK production of crude oil and NGL's decreased in the first quarter of 2006 by 8.4 per cent (1.9 million tonnes) when compared to the same period last year. In the year ending March 2006, four new fields started production although their relative small sizes are insufficient to make up the general decline in production from the older and larger established fields. The UK was a net importer of oil and oil products in the first quarter of 2006 despite still being a net exporter of oil products.

Click to enlarge.

On Gas:

In the first quarter of 2006, gas production was 4.5 per cent lower than a year ago with imports of gas to the UK 44.5 per cent higher and exports 1.3 per cent higher, net imports were 64.6 per cent higher than a year ago. During this quarter, imports of gas accounted for 23.3 per cent of gas available for consumption, compared to 16.7 per cent one year ago.

Click to enlarge.

It's interesting to see just were the gas is used, here we can see the recent decline in gas used for electricity generation but interestingly pretty much flat lines for other industrial users:

Click to enlarge.

The first article on The Oil Drum UK considered the approaching energy gap, including this high level graph:

Click to enlarge. (Source Energy Trends 1.1 & 1.2)

The situation certainly isn't improving yet still the media aren't talking about it and there is little in the way of national debate. We should receive the output from the Government's Energy Review in the next few weeks; it will be a critical report setting the tone of conversation for the next few years... unless events overtake it with demand failing to be met at reasonable prices.

Chris, many thanks for all your work posting this data.

It is good to see hard data ... it makes a change from all the wiffle-waffle one sees on many Peak Oil sites.

It would be interesting to see a projection over the next years, based on the hard data from today and the past.

Do you know of any integrated models/projections which use this and other "real" data to plot the UK energy situation for several years into the future?

The model should include probable changes in the future such as the purchase of new nuclear plant, the phasing out / extending of current nuclear plant, the availability of natural gas from Norway, Russia etc, the true availability of LNG from Algeria & Qatar etc.

Ideally we should also use known errors in past released data to influence the probable accuracy of current data ... I'm sure that there is a standard statistical method for doing this sort of twiddling!

The model should also include the financials so that we can see what state our economy might be in N years time.

Surely such a model MUST exist somewhere? It seems crazy that we should have to make our own attempts to model this data if a well thought out model already exists.

Great analysis Chris.

What caught my eye was the 4.5% increase in domestic final consumption.  Seems those rapidly rising utility bills are not having the effect economists would like us to believe in....

Overall, we seem to be sleepwalking towards what surely must be some kind of major crisis, which could be precipitated by a cold winter this year.

On the media - there was a piece on Newsnight yesterday, by their science correspondant, on 'Tony Blair's conversion to Nuclear power'.  This was so devoid of objective analysis on eg. future fuel supplies and costs, that it was completely laughable.  Maybe an approach that would get attention would be thorough the tabloids ?  How about 'French Nuke rip-off !' as an opener. :)

I watched this too - dreadful reporting. Susan Watt's (Newsnight's science correspondent) bias against nuclear power was clearly evident

She was supposed to be investigating why Tony has done a u-turn on the nuclear option - certainly worthy of investigation. Rather than look at the fundamentals of the UK energy balance she preferred to pursue a theory that lobbying by big business was behind the shift.

She even suggested that a key turning point was a report presented to TB that estimated "only 4000" people had died as a result of Chernobyl and this changed his view of the nuclear risk/reward. Now I am no fan of Tony whatsoever, but even I can't see him being persuaded by this argument.

The truth she should have been uncovering is that TB has finally woken up to the energy crisis facing this country. The trouble is its too late. TB has completely run out of credibility and a u-turn of this magnitude on such an immotive topic isn't going to change public opinion - which I believe is firmly against nuclear power.

With Cameron trying to outdo the Greens, I doubt Gordon Brown will risk going against public opinion until he is safely ensconced in No10 after the next general election. It could be 2010 before we get the go-ahead and 2020 before we get any new reactors on-line.

Doubtless in 15 years time, an elderly Paxman will be demolishing some poor minister over their predecessors complete incompetence to plan UK energy. Assuming of course there isn't a blackout that evening.

I notice that we are still exporting some gas - presumably in the summer when there is a surplus and prices are low, only to re-import it again in winter when prices are high. Sell low, buy high - is that how the free energy market is serving our best interests?
When north sea oil falls in production again
it will cost $4000,000,000 more or less
to import the oil. What will that do to the
balance of payments, and the value of pound.
You then have the coast of the extra gas to
be imported as well.
 the year after it will be double that, and
the same the year after that.
 Provided that there is plenty out there to
Do you have a link to this financial data?
Doesn't sound good ...
No I worked it out myself
 BP Statistical review says we produce
1 808 000 barrels a day
8.5%153680 BARRELS a day

 1533680 X $72 =11 064 960 A DAY

 11064960 US dollers X 365 4036 000 000 US DOLLERS

 For natural gas you end up with
  1284 Billion cubic meters.
 I do not know the price per cubic meter of
natural gas.    

Latest price for NG on Bloomberg (Nymex Henry Hub) is $5.52/mmbtu which equates to almost exactly $200 per mcm (thousand cubic metres). Links: Bloomberg energy prices and SPE - Unit Conversion Factors

Here are links to 2 of my recent posts re impact of NS production declines on UK trade balance: and

I could not agree with your forcast more
the long term outlook is not good at all
 I run a small upmarket hotel, and often
bring up peak oil to the businessmen who stay
here most just do not belive it possible.
A few of the very rich ones do take a look
at the sites I mention and then take action
Like buy a farm put in there own water supply
and power plants wind and water.
 I wish I hade the spare cash to do the same.
I hope to sell out just before
peak becomes mainstream to the banks and the
general public to buy my own place in north
More generally, if many Western countries start having to import huge volumes of gas & oil, what will that do to the world economy?

Will the suppliers get richer and richer, whilst shipping smaller & smaller volumes, to fewer & fewer countries?

Which will be the last countries to face economic collapse?

I assume the countries to survive will be those that make things, or provide services, that the supplier countries want.

Japan and Germany spring to mind - both make expensive, very high tech goods.

I'm not sure about China - does it export much to the oil & gas producers?

The UK of course is stuffed - our service industries are slowly fading and we don't make much.

Perhaps we should buddy up with another military power, and simply go and grab some oil? Nah, couldn't happen.

EU countries such as France and Germany are used to importing the majority of their oil and gas supplies; they have very limited indigenous supplies.  Oil and gas imports for UK will cause somewhat of an economic shock as UK has been lulled into a (soon to be false) sense of security by several decades of cheap NS supply.

All EU oil / gas importing nations will be impacted by ongoing price rises but UK especially so given that our manufacturing base has been extensively eroded and UK also runs a large deficit in tourist trade.  My own view is that UK will be using less oil and gas by 2020 - consumers won't like it but in the absence of a big manufacturing revival UK plc won't be able to afford imports on a scale in line with current DTI / Gov't demand growth forecasts or anywhere near it.

You have to understand that the extra money payed for gas is not lost! The money has gone somewhere else, but it isn't lost!

This means that the people who get the money (the oil exporters) can (and will) spend it back into the U.K. economy (or buy bonds). If they don't the pound would not keep its value (a lot of people would not allow this to happen). So this means that the money comes back into the U.K. either way!

Only if extracting the oil requires more manual labor (more people to extract a barrel) the economy will be hurt! But since you hear every company screaming that they can not find qualified people I think that the increase in people working in the oil sector is relatively limmited (any data on this?)

Oil is traded in dollars, meaning that most of this money is crediting the US economy.

Absent revival of the UK export, more expensive oil will put downward pressure on the US pound (and on the US dollar BTW) which would mean more expensive imports leading to lower living standart.

"I'm not sure about China - does it export much to the oil & gas producers?"

I seem to recall reading that China built a subway system in Teheran and has built rail and other infrastructure in several African countries.

It seems to me that China is and will be very well positioned to offer a wide range of competitive goods and services to oil exporters.

Good work Chris,
One minor quibble: although the switch to coal from gas must have  cost us a major hit to efforts to limit CO2 emissions, I wonder if it is quite as bad as you suggest. There is a great variation in thermal efficiency (and hence CO2 emissions ) between gas fired stations. Older single cycle stations are about 45% efficient but the latest combined gas and steam cycle stations achieve 60% or more. I suspect that the figure you quote is a average figure over UK generation plant. In reducing the gas fired generation load factor if will be the least efficient stations that are stood off first somewhat moderating the emissions hit.

Can someone explain the ability to make such a massive switch to coal ?

My understanding is that gas electric generators are basically big jet engines coupled with a steam turbine running on the waste heat from the natural gas turbine.

Was the ability to run coal already in place it must have been otherwise the quick switch is impossible. Next if this is true how much other latent coal fired electric generation is possible ?

The system has to have enough capacity to meet peak demand allowing for some plant to be down for maintenance at any time. Since the demand is very much less than peak for most of  the time much of the plant is stood off at any one time. To minimise cost the plant with the highest incremental generation costs is stood off first. As the load drops further progressively more expensive generation is stood off. This means that nuclear generation that has very low incremental costs (but enormous fixed costs) is run almost flat out all the time. Likewise any wind generated power available is accepted as it has almost zero incremental cost.

The swing to coal from gas generation is thus accounted for by  the least efficient of the gas generation being more expensive now than the most efficient of the coal generation. What you describe as a big jet engine coupled to a steam turbine is a combined cycle system and can run at up to 60% thermal efficiency. There are still a fair number of stations that are, in your terms, just a big jet engine. These have efficiencies down to 45%. With the best of coal fired generation at 40% efficiency it does not take much of a swing in the relative costs of coal and gas for the gas generation to be stood down first.

My understanding is that the peaking generators are usually gas, not coal.  These changes to coal imply a large spare capacity of coal fired generation.  I wonder how much more spare coal generation is available, and how long the equipment can run at these levels without maintanance issues.  
Generation that has to respond to the unpredictable element of  peak demand is met by gas generation because this can be brought online in a shorter time. The Dinorwic pumped storage scheme responds even faster and can be brought online in 15 seconds for 0 to 1.3GW and is reserved to meet very sudden peaks.

However the bulk of the variation in demand can be predicted a reasonable time in advance and coal fired plant is scheduled to run for the main parts of the daily and annual peaks if this is cheaper to run than gas generation.

OK, this is my understanding too - my question really is how close is the UK to maxing out the existing coal fired generation capacity?
Although Wytch Farm accounts for 90% of the 60 million tons of oil that has been extracted from onshore UK sites the DTI lists 30 other tiny onshore wells. These are scattered over the country which implies that there must have been a fair bit of survey work done.

Not usually included in UK oil resources but nevertheless economically important is the London Clay used for making Felton bricks. The clay contains too little oil to make it worth extracting but just enough to allow the bricks to self fire by careful management of groups of ovens with the heat of adjacent ovens bringing each new batch up to the temperature at which the oil starts to burn without the need for external energy input. This clay is almost unique to the UK.

Thanks for the link. The numbers look pretty dire though.
Hello UK TODers,


After reading the link and your comments:  I  hope your leaders come up with a short-term emergency plan combined with a long-term strategy pretty quickly, for all your sakes.  If I was a Brit--I would be furious that things got this far out of control.  Good luck, do all the Peakoil Outreach you can, while you can.

Bob Shaw in Phx,AZ USA  Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

Does anyone on this board know of any geologic mapping done on oil formations that may occur between the Wytch Farm field in Dorset and the North Sea? Just wondering.
This is from ABC Radio in Sydney, I copied it here for you. Apologies for the format.

DJ Iranian Analyst Says Global Oil Output Limit Reached -ABC

  CANBERRA (Dow Jones)--The limit of global oil production has been reached and there isn't enough to go around, analyst and former National Iranian Oil Co. executive Ali Samsam Bakhtiari said Monday.

  Giant fields in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are struggling to meet production targets, while massive output declines from the North Sea and Mexico will have a major economic impact, he said in a speech to the Financial Services Institute in Sydney.

  For the first time in 150 years, the world is entering an era in which it can't have all the oil that it wants, he said in a report on Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

  There are five years left to plan priorities for the use of crude oil, he said. "Some countries don't even know what is happening," he said. "Some huge companies don't even know what is happening and they are going to be ambushed and trapped and they are going to panic." "The worst thing you can do is to panic when the prices are going to go sky-high," he said.

  -By Ray Brindal, Dow Jones Newswires; 612-6208-0902;

  -Edited by Ryan Woo

Just watched the show - it is worth watching.

You can all see it in the broadband edition that has extended inteviews with Colin Campbell etc

I will be meeting with the Head of Electrical & Mechanical Engineering for Landsvirkjun (Icelandic National Power Company) and the Project Leader for the Kárahnjúkar project at the end of July.

Iceland looked at and rejected a 2,000 MW DC link to Scotland years ago.  EDF is building a new 1,600 MW nuke as close as possible to England.

Iceland could supply Scotland from the north, and France could supply England from the south.

How much electricity does the UK need ?  Will the price be whatever LNG costs ?  Or French nuke power ? Does the internal transmission grid of Great Britain allow large transfers of power between England & Scotland ?

How much electricity does the UK need ?  Will the price be whatever LNG costs ?  Or French nuke power ? Does the internal transmission grid of Great Britain allow large transfers of power between England & Scotland ?

The UK uses approx 400TWh per year, peak power consumption is around 60GW.  How much the UK needs is a matter of debate but I suspect a 30% saving by 2020 is realistic so maybe the medium range target should be around 300TWh.

A 1.6GW nuke with a typical 80% availability factor would deliver around 11TWh per year (just under 3% of what we currently consume).  The UK currently imports almost 7 TWh (1.7%) over the 2GW link with France (it doesn't run 24/7).

If the UK uses LNG for electricity then the wholesale price of the electricity will be equal to the gas, taking into account the ~60% efficient CCGT and small contribution for capital overheads.

I think the grid is currently at the limits regarding North-South movements, whenever new infrastructure projects in Scotland are considered major grid strengthening is cited as a problem.

30%? How are you going to justify this in such a timeframe?
In 14 years 90% of the people will be living in the same houses we have today, and some of them will be even driving the same cars they have today. Absent economic meltdown (and AFAIK even Russian consumption did not collapse that much), rationing and/or sky-high electricity prices I simply don't believe that happening.
I am just talking about electricity consumption, not total energy.  By 2020 although most of our houses will be the same virtually all electrical devices will have been replaced.  See my previous article to see how the standby consumption of my household appliances totals 168W.  This could (must!) be reduced to near zero by 2020.  Incandescent light bulb sales still dwarf compact fluorescents.  So yeah I think increasing electricity prices and the necessary EU legislation on product specification could deliver the 30% reduction.
Yes, I was questioning electricity consumption too.

Given that there is a natural pressure for increase of 1-2% annualy, what you are suggesting is reducing our electricity consumption by almost half to what in a business as usual world we would (like to) have. I too believe that it is possible to achieve that, but I strongly doubt that this is a realistic goal. Given that it will also take government intervention and regulations - IMO you can simply write it off. It will take years until the government realises that situation has changed, years of discussions "what to do" and in total decades until the measures have significant impact.

Plus you are not accounting for the changes in the environment in the meantime. Consider for example that in the absence of enough natural gas many homes will start using electricity for heating and the picture will start looking pretty much hopeless.

Conservation tecnologies have been around for many decades now but still have not gone in the mainstream. And why? There is a strong resistance, not enough experience and very long and uncertain pay-off times for them. For this to reverse and have such impact it will take much longer than 14 years. In the meantime the population will be growing, economy will also press for growth and the gains can easily be lost.

I am sorry but 30% reduction of electricity consumption is simply not realistic and reminds me on the targets governments sets (and of course always miss) for reneawable energy generation and CO2 emissions. Check them out - none of them is met, and exactly because of that same type of thinking - that for example we could be producing 10% of UK electricity from renewables by 2010. Pie in the sky.

I am sorry but 30% reduction of electricity consumption is simply not realistic...

Given what we know about our current situation I would say that the UK generating ~500TWh (14 years of +1.5%) of electricity in 2020 is simply not realistic.

You're looking at the demand side and saying a 30% cut in demand is not realistic, well I say looking at the supply side a 25% increase over that period is not possible.

OK, let us agree on one assumption - our final goal is to find the ways to tie the electricity balance (demand=supply) without draconian consequences or measures (such as depression/rationing/quadrupling of rates/die-off, etc.).

We have limited options to do that.
Demand side:

  1. Efficiency
  2. Conservation
Supply side:
  1. Importing the electricity needed (assuming it is available)
  2. Building new caoacity to replace NG generation and aging nukes

What you are doing here, IMO is grossly overestimating the potential for an orderly and voluntary reducing the demand side of the equation, that is numbers 1 and 2 on the list. We simply will not be able to do it in this timeframe - not without those same punitive measures we are trying to avoid.

This is my only point - if you ask me 10% managed demand destruction as a result of efficiency improvements and encouragement of conservation (probably through moderate increase of rates) would be a heroic achievement by 2020.

Obviously we will have to fire all those four cannons, but the initial 30% estimate leaves the impression that we can easily avoid canons 3) and 4). IMO this is simply out of question.

Okay, I see what you mean.  I don't think 30% reduced demand will occur wholly on its own, orderly and voluntarily.  Why would it?  It will be the response to some degree of the draconian consequences or measures you mention as well as pro-active policy decisions.

I agree with your suggestion that even 10% (leaving the UK consuming ~360TWh) managed demand destruction as a result of efficiency improvements and encouraged conservation by 2020 would be impressive assuming supply was available.

But what happens if by 2020 the UK only has the capacity to generate (and import) say 280TWh?  Consumption will then not exceed 280TWh, 30% reduction will have been achieved but it might not have been nicely managed or voluntary.

When I talk about 30% I'm talking about how much our electricity consumption could be reduced by without dramatically impacting on our way of life.  We could cut that amount and still have lights, refrigeration, TV, computers, showers etc...

There are many opportunities to reduce electricity consumption, and not just in the home.  We all see shopping centres closed but fully lit all night where simple movement detection devices could activate the lights only when someone was there.  These centres also use escalators extensively when the vast majority of shoppers are able bodied and could use the stairs.

Another example I noted yesterday was in my local mini-supermarket when whole front of store was in full sunlight and yet all the lights were on due to back of store receiving little natural light and yet there appeared to be just a single light swich for the whole floor.  UK also has large stretches of major roads lit all night when a combination of vehicle headlights and more careful driving could achieve the same result.  Our towns used to only leave 1 street light in 4 on after 2300 hrs, now everything is left on all night.

The list is near endless and the above give some ideas which might be 'less than desirable' for some but would not cause economic activity to cease.

As we've discussed on other UK threads I don't think a 'business as usual' option for UK is affordable for more than a very few years.  To simply follow growth assumptions of recent JESS report i.e. 2.2% pa gas demand growth would, in view of N Sea declines, require UK to spend around £64bn pa on oil/gas imports by 2023....and that's at current energy prices.  Add in existing trade deficit of £36bn pa and we'd have £100bn pa deficit (or $184bn).  To run a trade deficit on such a scale, especially when bulk would be for energy with inelastic demand profile, would require large and lasting interest rate hikes (and that's assuming UK could even borrow currency on this scale for many years).  This alone would tip UK into a deep recession which in turn would destroy much demand for energy as it becomes unaffordable to many.

UK Trade and Industry Secretary, Alistair Darling pointed out in a Radio 4 Today interview this morning that future gas imports for electricity generation would need to be sourced increasingly from unstable parts of the world whose supplies might not be dependable hence need for more balanced electricity generation policy.  There is apparently more on this subject in the UK Energy Review due to be published later today.

On this basis, unless UK is prepared to return to coal in a big way for electricity generation (and accept the CO2 consequences) I concur with Chris Vernon's views that there are few alternatives other than significant demand reductions.

Oil furthers UK May trade deficit
The UK trade gap with the rest of the world hit £6.8bn ($12.41bn), from April's revised number of £5.6bn.
Oil imports rose sharply amid falling production in the UK and moves to increase oil stocks, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.
Analysts fear that rising oil costs could dampen the economy.
As we've been discussing on these UK threads UK's energy trade deficit is rising and lots more of the same lies ahead as NS continues on decline path (oil's decline may be stalled for about 12 months next year as Buzzard comes online but will then resume decline path).  The part of this announcement I find the most surprising is the size of the monthly trade deficit i.e. £6.8bn coming at a time when UK is probably still about 85 to 90% self sufficient in oil/gas.  What are the numbers going to look like if / when we get to the 80 - 90% oil / gas import proportions referred to by Tony Blair in recent interview?
The part of this announcement I find the most surprising is the size of the monthly trade deficit i.e. £6.8bn coming at a time when UK is probably still about 85 to 90% self sufficient in oil/gas.  What are the numbers going to look like if / when we get to the 80 - 90% oil / gas import proportions?

This too worries me ... the supply-demand gap is currently barely visible on the graphs ... yet the financial impact is huge.

  1. Can we afford the CURRENT small gap?

  2. At what percentage shortfall (and what year) will the UK general population realise that we have a big problem?

  3. At what percentage shortfall (and what year) will the UK simply be unable to pay for imports?

  4. Will we able to pay for all the energy we need using "funny money"? The US seems to manage to survive whilst owing the world gadzillions of dollars?

  5. Will there ever be a day when the suppliers simply refuse to send indebted Britain fuel ... or is our country too important to the rest of the world for that to happen?

What do you think? How might this play out? How many years do we have before the creaking sounds start?
I agree. If you do not develop new energy sources this is exactly what is going to happen (plus a certain UK pound collapse for the pleasure of Mr.Soros).
Looks like the French have more realistic vision for the UK energy future than the brits themselves. Sorry guys, but I can't help the feeling that this country has been spoiled by the years of oil&gas fiesta.

what Voltage were they planning on using on that D.C. link to Scotland?

All I have is just verbal conversions.  It was to sell 2,000 MW at peak (perhaps 6 or 7 hours per day average, more on weekdays).  I suspect voltage was around 500 kV, but I do not know.  I have not seen the study.


Great Work. I spotted this Bloomberg article today on China. They are pushing CTL in pretty major way. It seems to be shaping up as the most economic alternative. Looks like the future is going to be coal.

By Wing-Gar Cheng
     July 11 (Bloomberg) -- Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Europe's
second-biggest oil company, and Shenhua Ningxia Coal Industry Group agreed to study the feasibility of spending as much as $6 billion on a China plant to turn coal into fuels and chemicals.
     Shell and Shenhua Ningxia, a unit of Shenhua Group
Corp., China's biggest coal producer, will study the technical and commercial viability of building a 70,000 barrels-a-day plant in northern China's Ningxia province, the companies said in a statement today.
     Record oil costs are spurring China to build plants that can turn some of its coal reserves, the world's third-largest, into auto fuels and raw materials for making plastics. Sasol Ltd., the world's biggest producer of motor fuel from coal, said last month there is potential to build at least 12 coal-to-fuel plants in China.
     ``We believe this technology is important to China,'' Lim Haw Kuang, chairman of Shell companies in China, said. The plant will contribute toward ``finding sustainable energy solutions'' for Ningxia and China, he said. Preliminary cost estimates for such plants run at between $5 billion and $6 billion, he said.
     The venture with Shell is one of two that China's government has approved for Shenhua Ningxia. Each of the two plants would be capable of turning 3.2 million metric tons a year of coal into fuels such as gasoline and diesel, Yan Guohui, the company's general manager for coal-to-liquids projects, said yesterday.

                        `Economic Sense'

     ``We want to better utilize our coal resources to sell
higher-priced products,'' Yan told reporters at the Ningdong coal mining center. ``It makes better economic sense now to sell fuels
instead of just raw coal.''
     Construction of the two projects may start at the end of 2008, Yan said. The National Development and Reform Commission, China's top economic planner, has approved the projects, she said.
Ningxia, China's sixth-largest coal production base, has proved coal reserves of about 31 billion tons. Potential reserves may total 202.5 billion tons.
     Credit Suisse Group, Switzerland's second-biggest bank, last week raised its Asian coal price forecasts because of increased demand from projects that will turn the commodity into
liquid fuels.
     Coal prices in 2010 may average $45 a ton, compared with an earlier forecast of $39, Credit Suisse's Hong Kong-based analyst Trina Chen and Shanghai-based Mick Mi wrote in a report on July

                            Record Oil

     Crude oil futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange have risen 22 percent in the past year and reached $75.78 a barrel on July 7, the highest since New York trading began in 1983. Coal liquefaction plants are viable as long as oil trades at $30 a barrel, Credit Suisse said.
     Shenhua Ningxia is building a separate coal-to-chemicals plant at Ningdong, in the province's east, Yan said. The plant, designed to turn 250,000 tons a year of coal into methanol, should be completed at the end of 2006 to start producing methanol early in 2007, she said. The plant cost 1 billion yuan ($125 million).
     The company plans to spend 10 billion yuan on a plant that will turn coal into polypropylene at Ningdong, which is scheduled to start operating in the first half of 2009, General Manager Wang Jian said today. Polypropylene is a chemical raw material.
     Shenhua Group, China's largest coal producer, owns a
majority stake in Shenhua Ningxia, and Ningxia Coal Industry Group the rest. Shenhua Group is the parent of Hong Kong-listed China Shenhua Energy Co.

                          Sasol Accord

     Sasol and Shenhua Ningxia last month signed an initial
agreement for an 80,000 barrels a day coal-to-fuels plant in Ningxia.
     Xstrata Plc, the world's biggest exporter of coal used in power plants, said July 9 it agreed with most of its Japanese customers on a price for thermal coal sold under contract in 2007-07 that is near last year's record level.
     Xstrata agreed with Japanese power utilities on a price of $52.50 per metric ton for thermal coal supplied in the year started April 1. That compares with last year's average of between $52 and $54 a ton, which was a rise of about 20 percent from the previous year.
     Shenhua Group is the parent of Hong Kong-listed China
Shenhua Energy Co.
     The U.S. has the world's largest coal reserves at 246.6 billion metric tons, according to BP's Statistical Review of World Energy. Russia's reserves of 157 billion tons are the second-largest, followed by China with 114.5 billion tons.

--Editor: Viljoen.

Looks like we'll see increases of at least 15% a year in China's CO2 emissions for the foreseeable future, and already this year they will exceed those of the US to become the world's largest.