Thursday, January 08, 2009

Peak Coal?
Or are we already past peak? Joseph Romm at gristmill takes a look.

Let's start with the U.S. Geological Survey's stunning 131-page analysis from December, "Assessment of Coal Geology, Resources, and Reserves in the Gillette Coalfield, Powder River Basin, Wyoming" [big PDF]:

The Gillette coalfield, within the Powder River Basin in east-central Wyoming, is the most prolific coalfield in the United States. In 2006, production from the coalfield totaled over 431 million short tons of coal, which represented over 37 percent of the Nation's total yearly production.

The "total original coal resource in the Gillette coalfield" without applying any restrictions, "was calculated to be 201 billion short tons." Then USGS subtracts out the inaccessible coal, and then mining and processing losses, which leaves 77 billion tons, and finally:

Coal reserves are the portion of the recoverable coal that can be mined, processed, and marketed at a profit at the time of the economic evaluation. With a discounted cash flow at 8 percent rate of return, the coal reserves estimate for the Gillette coalfield is 10.1 billion short tons of coal (6 percent of the original resource total) for the 6 coal beds evaluated.

Ouch! And this analysis was done at a time of soaring coal prices.

We have been told that coal is cheap and abundant. Just as we have bee told the market takes care of itself. Is it just another of the republican delusion?

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