JW Randolph

200 Year U.S. Coal Supply: The Saudi Arabia of Exaggeration

200 Year U.S. Coal Supply: The Saudi Arabia of Exaggeration

Coal industry front groups like the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (aka. The ACCCE) are aggressively marketing the abundance of US coal, claiming that, "we have enough coal to last the next 200 years."

Unfortunately for the ACCCE, the latest research shows something very different.

A 2007 report by The National Academy of Sciences suggests that the most likely scenario is that we have roughly 100 years left of economically recoverable coal.

Is there physically enough coal in the ground to last 200 years? Probably. But extracting it would mean a level of environmental and social devastation that would even make 1 million acres of mountaintop removal look miniscule by comparison.

Appalachian coal has peaked, and that's why there's such aggressive extraction techniques like mountaintop removal in the region. The US Geological Survey in 2001 found that the northern and central Appalachian coal basins had 10-20 years left of thick, high quality, bituminous coal at current production. And yet we detonate the an amount of explosives equal to one Hiroshima bomb every single week in Appalachia in order to get at the last of the coal. As other coal basins peak, we may expect similar devastation in those coal zones as well.

With the cost/ton of northern and central Appalachian coal nearly tripling since just last year (both have shot over $100/ton in the last few weeks) it will be interesting to see what happens with production. What we know is that wind, solar, and other alternative forms of energy production are already overshadowing coal in cost effectiveness per kilowatt.

The bottom line is that there is every indication that we have passed "peak coal" not only in Appalachia, but in the United States. The future of coal-mining, and the future of Appalachia, lie not with more explosives and bigger shovels, but in the beauty and fertility of our mountains, and hopefully a few wind turbines. Ground Zero in the mountaintop removal VS. wind energy battle: Coal River Mountain, where locals are trying to stop a mountaintop removal permit and put up some green-job-producing wind turbines instead. Stay tuned...

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Its rightly said that the future of coal-mining, and the future of Appalachia, lie not with more explosives and bigger shovels, but in the beauty and fertility of our mountains, and hopefully a few wind turbines. Its time we stop flirting with danger. And the sooner we understand this better it will be, to live in a world where love tips over and we live in harmony with Nature.

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