Re: [asa] Peak Coal?

From: Preston Garrison <>
Date: Tue Mar 24 2009 - 18:45:34 EDT

>It is now 10 years since I wrote the first draft
>of my short note to the ASA on peak oil.
>Back then, even in the oil industry, such views
>were considered to be a wee bit wacko and
>needlessly pessimistic. Today, the concept of
>peak oil is mainstream even while the worldwide
>drop in demand drops the price (which won't stay
>down long and is now slowly moving upward--$20
>/bbl above the lows right now)
>Anyway, I have been invested in coal, which is a
>very very volatile investment and not for the
>faint of heart, so I am interested in the coal
>supplies. Urban legend has it that the US has
>200 years of coal supply at current rates of
>usage. This may not be true.
>Over the past couple of years, as oil prices
>went up people started seriously looking at how
>much coal we have. The answers have not been
>comforting. First one must know how world coal
>reserves are determined. One would think that a
>geologist out in the field would be involved.
>Not always
>"A look at how official global reserves are
>calculated does little to bolster confidence.
>The figures, compiled by a husband-and-wife
>energy consultancy called Energy Data Associates
>based in Dorset, UK, are gathered principally by
>sending out a questionnaire to the governments
>of 100 coal-producing countries. Officials are
>asked to supply figures under clearly defined
>guidelines, but many do not. About two-thirds of
>the countries reply, says Alan Clarke of Energy
>Data Associates.And maybe 50 are usable." David
>Strahan, The Great Coal Hole
>which was published in New Scientist Jan 19, 2008
>So, a bureaucrat was filling in forms. But as I
>said, as the price of oil rose, people started
>sending geologists out to find out how much coal
>they really have. And that brings me to my
>latest Science magazine, which has an article
>entitled, "How Much Coal Remans?"
> "In the last couple of years,
>forecasting coal production by Hubbert’s
>approach has come into vogue, partly because
>geologists seemed to be having trouble assessing
>how much minable coal was left. For example,
>“40% of the world’s coal disappeared in 3
>years,” recalls retired U.S. Geological Survey
>coal expert Harold Gluskoter. For the World
>Energy Council’s triennial survey of coal
>resources in 1990, China cut its recoverable
>coal reserves—the amount of remaining coal
>geologists believe can be extracted with today’s
>technology at today’s prices—to one-sixth of
>what it had reported in 1987. The coal was
>mostly still there; the Chinese just decided
>they could extract only a smaller proportion of
> "Less dramatically, in 2007 a
>committee of the U.S. National Research Council
>that Gluskoter served on could not support the
>long-standing estimate of about 267 billion
>short tons of recoverable reserves in the United
>States. Divided by current U.S. production, the
>old estimate gave the oft-quoted figure of a
>250-year supply for the United States. “We
>probably have 100 years. We don’t know how much
>after that,” says Gluskoter." Richard A. Kerr,
>How Much Coal Remains? Science, March 13, 2009,
>p. 1420-1421
>The good news is that there isn't enough coal to
>drive the atmospheric temperature too high.
>"Applied to 14 major coalproducing regions,
>Rutledge’s method gives a world ultimate
>production of 660 billion metric tons.

It's been referred to on these pages before, but
if anyone is interested in this issue, go and
listen to David Rutledge's lecture on the caltech

It's the Watson Lecture - Hubbert's Peak, the
Coal Question, and Climate Change.

I'll probably have lunch with him sometime this
summer, and I'll let you all know if his analysis
has changed. (I competed with him for grades in
high school. He won.)

Preston G.

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Received on Tue Mar 24 18:46:29 2009

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