Bait & Switch Big Picture Climate Change Emissions Impossible Peak Energy

Peak Everything (2)

The “Standard Fossil Fuel” Peak, that of Coal, Petroleum Oil and Natural Gas, is probably within 10 years.

We really have to avoid “Alternatives”, like Tar Sands, Oil Shale…or we could create Climate Crisis in another 10 years.

When BP branded themselves “Beyond Petroleum”, when Shell expanded its Renewables division briefly, we thought it was Greenwash, we thought it was about a bit of token Renewable Energy…but I think they might be serious – about “Alternative” Energy resources that would be way, way more Carbon-intensive than Coal.

It’s not something David Rutledge at CalTech has factored in, I think. He used to be talking about keeping Coal in the ground, but now he’s more optimistic that standard Fossil Fuels will not bring us to Climate catastrophe…

“We […] find fits for world oil and gas production, and by a regional analysis, for world coal production. For world oil and gas production, the fit for the ultimate is 640Gtoe (billion metric tons of oil equivalent). This is somewhat larger than the sum of cumulative production and reserves, 580Gtoe. Because future discoveries are not included in the reserves, it is to be expected that our fit would be larger. On the other hand, there have been large increases in OPEC reserves that have not been subject to outside audit, so it is not clear how close the two numbers should be. For world coal, the sum of the fits for regional ultimate production is 660Gt (billion metric tons). This is considerably less than the sum of cumulative production and reserves, 1,100Gt, but it is consistent with the British experience, where until recently, reserves were a large multiple of future production. The projection is that we will have consumed half of the ultimate world oil, gas, and coal production by 2019. This means that the current intense development of alternative sources of energy can be justified independently of climate considerations. When these projections are converted to carbon equivalents, the projected future emissions from burning oil, gas, and coal from 2005 on are 520GtC. The projected emissions for the 2005-2100 period are smaller than for any of the 40 SRES scenarios. This suggests that future scenarios should take exhaustion into account. These projections, if correct, are good news for climate change.”

“Kerr reports that the application of the Hubbert method to coal suggests that the ultimate amount of coal that can be mined could be much smaller (reportedly by a factor of four in one analysis) than estimates derived from more conventional geologic methods. Initial calculations [pdf] by David Rutledge of the California Institute of Technology show that world peak coal production could occur as early as 2019 — that’s only 10 years from now in case you are mathematically challenged. If it’s correct, it’s good news from a climate point of view, but from an energy-security point of view, not so much. Coal plays a major role in most scenarios for how the United States and the world will meet its future energy demands. This role for coal holds even for many of the scenarios that map out our energy future while also curtailing greenhouse gas emissions; such plans foresee the use of “clean coal” technology with CCS. And so billions of dollars are being spent on eveloping this technology. Here’s the catch: If these new, unconventional estimates of our recoverable reserves of coal turn out to be correct, then the mad rush for “clean coal” could turn out to be much ado about not all that much.”

“WSJ front-page shocker: “U.S. Foresees a Thinner Cushion of Coal,” warns rosy U.S. coal estimates “may be wildly overconfident” : Okay, it isn’t a shock to long-time readers that the US Geological Survey sharply scaled back projections of economically-recoverable US coal (see “Are we approaching peak coal? Part 1” and “Part 2“). As I reported in January, the USGS concluded: “The coal reserves estimate for the Gillette coalfield is 10.1 billion short tons of coal (6 percent of the original resource total).” Although it didn’t get much media attention, this December report was a shocker because the USGS is highly credible and the Gillette field, within Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, “is the most prolific coalfield in the United States” and in 2006 provided “over 37 percent of the Nation’s total yearly production.” But I think it’s a shocker that the Wall Street Journal finally makes it their front page story, “U.S. Foresees a Thinner Cushion of Coal.” The piece discusses the USGS survey — and facts on the ground: “Mining companies report they have to dig deeper and move more earth to extract coal from aging mines, driving up costs. Utilities have grown skittish about whether suppliers can ship promised coal on time. American Electric Power Co., the nation’s biggest coal buyer, says it has stepped up its due diligence to make sure its suppliers can make deliveries after some firms missed shipments last fall. It even bought a mine to lock down supplies.” “We are very much concerned, and it’s getting worse,” said Tim Light, senior vice president for AEP. The WSJ has an important graph comparing coal production by region. And yes, the WSJ used the term “Peak Coal,” though perhaps “Peak Coal East of the Mississippi” might be more accurate. Q: What happens if coal gets more expensive for Eastern and Southeastern utilities, because of the rising cost of Eastern coal and/or the transportation costs associated with Western coal (especially as peak oil drives prices back to record levels and beyond over the next several years)? A: A bunch of good things from the perspective of trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the lowest possible cost while jumpstarting the transition to a clean energy economy.”

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