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Page added on July 9, 2017

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Don’t Count Out Coal Yet

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The coal industry has faced headwinds for the past decade. Burdensome regulations and competition from cheap natural gas have taken their toll. Conventional wisdom now suggests the sun is setting on the U.S. coal industry, but the assumptions driving that thinking are far from certainties.

Energy experts point to falling costs for renewables and the nation’s vast and low-cost supply of natural gas as signs that coal’s market share will continue to erode. But why should we assume renewable energy technology improves faster and more disruptively than fossil fuel technology? There are also good reasons that natural gas might not remain cheap.

Natural gas has a well-documented history of price volatility. As demand for natural gas continues to grow – from electricity generation, from heavy industry and now from exports – and as public opposition to drilling and new pipeline projects seemingly grows as well, demand might well overtake supply. We are left with far more questions than satisfactory answers.

Conversely, even if renewable technologies do continue to improve and natural gas prices stay low, don’t count out advanced coal technology. Breakthroughs and cost reductions with advanced coal technology – such as supercritical coal combustion and carbon capture; utilization; and storage – could upend perceptions about coal’s environmental impact. If that seems improbable, look no further than our recently discovered abundance of natural gas from the shale revolution as evidence that the improbable happens regularly when it comes to energy.

The energy industry has a long and distinguished history of having the strongest assumptions and most carefully constructed and conservative projections turned on their head. The arrival of the shale revolution is a perfect example of unexpected energy serendipity.

Less than a decade ago, domestic demand for natural gas was far outpacing production. Experts were confident that the U.S. was poised to rival Japan as the world’s largest liquefied natural gas importer. Liquefied natural gas import terminals, with price tags in the billions, were built in anticipation of our inevitable dependence on gas from overseas. But that inevitability never arrived. Instead, the revolutionary twin technologies of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling unlocked supplies of natural gas and oil long thought inaccessible and uneconomical. And now the U.S. is the world’s largest natural gas producer, and no one saw it coming.

This change did not come overnight. Experimental fracking on shale deposits had been taking place since the 1970s. One new technology after another – everything from 3-D seismic imaging to horizontal drilling and new mixtures of sand and fracturing fluids – finally came together for a breakthrough 20 years later.

The shale revolution, and its origin, offer two powerful reminders. First, experimentation with technologies that may seem like a dead end can wind up being game-changers when private industry gets support from our national labs and the Department of Energy. While it was petropreneurs and private companies that finally cracked the shale code, they did it with assistance from government researchers, grants and tax credits.

US News

5 Comments on "Don’t Count Out Coal Yet"

  1. Lucifer on Sun, 9th Jul 2017 2:54 pm 

    King coal is dazed and facing a standing 10 count, the knockout blow is coming soon.

  2. Sissyfuss on Sun, 9th Jul 2017 10:28 pm 

    Louis Sypher, China is building 70 coal fired power plants in the near future And Trumpty Dumpty is going to finance power plants in other countries and then sell the coal to them. You of all people should enjoy a roaring coal inferno.

  3. Apneaman on Mon, 10th Jul 2017 2:20 am 

    “Burdensome regulations” I’d like to see them define that.

    There are convicted serial rapists in prison because they viewed ‘consent’ a “Burdensome regulation”.

    Shale gas, not EPA rules, has pushed decline in coal-generated electricity, study confirms

    “Power plants, which use 93 percent of the coal produced nationally, have been operating under the same EPA regulations signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in 1990. Proposed new rules since then have all been challenged in court and not implemented until June 2016, when the EPA’s restrictions on mercury and other toxic emissions were approved by the U.S. Supreme Court.

    Consumption of coal continued to grow under those 1990-era EPA rules until 2008, and then went into steady decline, dropping by 23 percent from 2008 thru 2015.”

    Facts can be burdensome too eh?

  4. Go Speed Racer on Mon, 10th Jul 2017 3:46 am 

    Coal is best for powering steam engines.

    Get rid of all the windmills and go back to coal.

    Chop up those glass-epoxy windmill blades, and burn them up at a garbage-to-energy incinerator.

    Run everything on coal & garbage fires.

  5. Davy on Mon, 10th Jul 2017 5:13 am 

    Coal in the US is dying because of economics. It is that simple. Trump won’t save it. What has Trump done really? He is mostly talk but little substance. He sure gets uptight self-righteous extremist people stirred up. I like that about him. China is very near a significant economic correction due to a failing macro credit impulse. The number of coal plants it may build will likely be much less. Global growth is not dead but it is dying.

    That said what does it matter? Nature is adding so much carbon and methane now. That release is dumping and could dump catastrophically. The planetary hydrologic heat sink is warming and in a planetary wide phase change. We have forced the climate and now it is likely out of our hands. Paris accord is phony and fake greens are liars. If you fly, drive, and use A/C you are a fake green. I am fake green because of this but I want to change and I am trying. I am aware of my sins are you? Quit lying and acting self-righteous. Quite your blaming and complaining you look ridiculous.

    Since we don’t yet know fully what is happening with climate we should error on caution. This means phase out fossil fuels as we can. One thing we won’t likely do because of behavior, scale, and time is leave fossil fuels. People that preach this are liars or childlike emotionally. What we can do is embrace wisdom to say no and do less in a relative way while understanding less at the extreme will kill. We can’t get too extreme about degrowth and still feed and shelter everyone today without economic activity. Can you live an excessively affluent life while so many could die? Everyone on this board including the ones that complain about being poor are in this class. I know I am for living with less so less die. I also know overpopulation means people are going to die and lots of them soon. My actions will do little to change this. Places are going to fail and there is nothing we can do but we can live with less as relative sacrifice for the less fortunate.

    What we surely can do is shame the extremely wealthy into doing less. Their stupid behaviors don’t really stimulate the economy and they damn sure don’t set good examples. Excessive consumerism and food choices are likewise unhealthy and could be redirected to better investments. Fat ugly and people with bad attitudes need to be brought to account. They won’t because it sells. Corporate modernism and human rights to be a dumbass control our choices and this means the anything goes of moral hazard. What we can’t do is get out of the trap of techno modernism without paying a price. The economy drops people die. GDP equals human life. To clarify this GDP predicament, we can change it significantly behaviorally. We could extend life and have more fairness.

    This is not going to happen everywhere but it can happen some places where people are awakened to reality and enlightened to social justice. We should move towards alternatives and localism. We should move away from what we thought was right in the late 20th century to what science is telling us now is right. We are on a collision course with planetary destruction. We should turn our backs on excessive affluence and towards what is good for the dying planet. We are trapped but that does not mean we have to immediately collapse but collapse we will.

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