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Page added on August 30, 2009

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Preventing blackout

Dwindling fossil fuels require strong focus on local resources

On July 25, La Plata County kicked off the visioning process for the update of its Comprehensive Plan with an all-day meeting, in which about 50 residents shared views about the past and present and devised story lines for the La Plata County of 2030.

One of the ideas that emerged was using local resources to become self-sufficient in energy. The importance of this concept is underscored in Richard Heinberg’s new book, Blackout. Heinberg’s earlier books include The Party’s Over and Peak Everything, which document the impending occurrence of “peak oil” and its consequences for modern society. In Blackout, he extends his analysis to coal, the most abundant fossil fuel.

Contrary to statements such as, “The United States has enough coal for 200 years, at present rates of consumption,” Heinberg’s review of actual coal reserves in the United States and elsewhere suggests that “peak coal” is less than a generation away, a conclusion with profound implications for La Plata County, for the United States and for the world.

In contrast to geologically mapped resources, coal reserves lie in accessible veins sufficiently large to mine economically with existing technology. Reserves, therefore, decrease owing to production, but they may increase as technology improves or prices rise. Upon close analysis, reserves are much smaller than resources. Heinberg suggests that U.S. reserves are about half of official estimates and that peak domestic coal production could come by 2025. Even if all the official reserves could be brought to market, peak production would come only one generation later. Half the accessible coal would still be available then, but in decreasing volumes, mostly of lower quality and produced at ever greater cost, as now occurs for domestic oil.

Durango Herald



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