Thursday, March 22, 2007

The End of Everything

Five years ago, when I first started writing about Peak Oil, and published my findings in a book called Silver in the Mine, the idea that the earth was running out of oil was preposterous. Now, the Peak Oil meme is running on steroids. Everyone seems to know about Hubbert and his curve.

A couple of years later, I did some research on nuclear fuel and found that we only have about 45-50 years or so of nuclear fuel left, and that is with the important caveat that there would be no increase in their numbers.

Many of us in the energy planning business know that the United States and North America in general has peaked in natural gas, so we plan on using the natural gas of Russia or Iran in our power plants. And we plan on liquifying and putting it on huge tankers. Even then, that natural gas is limited in supply and it will likely peak in the next 20 years or so.

But thank goodness we have plenty of coal.

Well, not so fast there wildman.

Here is the story from Richard Heinberg and Global Public Media that tells a different tale.

MuseLetter #179
March 2007
by Richard Heinberg

Burning the Furniture

A soon-to-be-released study by the Energy Watch Group in Germany on the future of global coal supplies has implications so surprising and far-reaching that energy policymakers may take years to digest it. This essay is intended to help speed that process.

The report’s central conclusions are that minable global coal reserves are much smaller than is commonly thought, and that a peak in world coal production is likely within only ten to fifteen years.


According to the widely accepted view, at current production levels proven coal reserves will last 155 years (this according to the World Coal Institute). The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) projects annual global coal consumption to grow 2.5 percent per year through 2030, by which time world consumption will be nearly double that of today.

Meanwhile, coal remains the most environmentally damaging of the conventional fossil fuels. While it produces a quarter of the world’s energy, it is responsible for nearly 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, principally carbon dioxide (CO2).


The United States is the world’s second-largest producer, surpassing the two next important producer states (India and Australia) by nearly a factor of three. Its reserves are so large that America has sometimes been called “the Saudi Arabia of coal.”

The U.S. has already passed its peak of production for high-quality coal (from the Appalachian mountains and the Illinois basin) and has seen production of bituminous coal decline since 1990. However, growing extraction of sub-bituminous coal in Wyoming has more than compensated for this.

Taking reserves into account, the authors of the report conclude that growth in total volumes can continue for 10 to 15 years. However, in terms of energy content U.S. coal production peaked in 1998 at 598 million tons of oil equivalents (Mtoe); by 2005 this had fallen to 576 Mtoe.

Clearly, "this forecast for a near-term peak in U.S. coal extraction flies in the face of frequently repeated statements that the nation has 200 years’ worth of coal reserves at current levels of consumption. "

However given the likelyhood that Saudi Arabia has peaked in oil production, the notion that the United States is the Saudi Arabia of Coal somehow rings with that dull thud of irony.

Yesterday, Al Gore called for a freeze on emissions now with a 90% reduction by 2050. It could be that this 90% reduction is going to be a lot easy to meet than most people think.
Not because we moved boldly towards a new world run on light.

But more likely, because the old world that ran on the dark of carbon,

Simply gave out.

And, it was the end of everything

that brought the Beginning of the All.



Post a Comment

<< Home