The Mines and Communities website has published a number of reports on the coal industry.
A mixed bag of coal-related “policies”
In 2006-2008 nuclear (uranium) power became the fashionable “alternative energy” solution for some people who recognised the unacceptable climate consequences of relying on coal, oil and gas. Yet, over the past year, advocacy for coal has – if anything – mounted. As the following summary shows, legislators in the US and Canada have been won over to the notion that carbon produced in coal-fired power plants can be effectively neutralised. This is despite the fact that no-one can yet convincingly demonstrate how that will be done.
Meanwhile, in a surprising statement last month, the chairman of the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission declared that there was no need to build a single further coal or nuclear plant, so long as US renewable power sources were properly “shaped”.
Australia is one of the world’s largest coal exporters. The government still clings to the notion that carbon trading can compensate for its citizens’ unique per capita contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions. It’s even offering free carbon credits to pulp, steel and cement industries which are predominantly powered by coal.
Characteristically China – now the world’s biggest single “climate culprit” – seems to be “picking and mixing” among available strategies. While the regime is depending on various “alternative” technologies to reduce its carbon toll, the province of Shanxi plans to close down 1,600 coal mines and absolutely reduce the industry’s output.
Smoke and mirrors: the illusion of “clean coal”
The case for “clean coal” – in effect through “carbon capture and storage”- hasn’t yet been demonstrated. Far from it. One recent study says the technology won’t prove commercially viable for another 21 years; even Obama’s energy secretary admits it will take another decade before its claims can be proved. Despite this, a growing number of government energy policies – those in the UK, China, Australia, the US among them – are predicated on the magic fix being in place sooner rather than later.
In this article, a US research journalist reveals how a new coal industry lobby is seeking to persuade citizens and politicians that the dirtiest of fuels may still be transformed into its opposite.
How coal may produce energy without being mined
There’s a general assumption that, in order to release its potential, coal must always be mined. In fact this most ubiquitous – and potentially hazardous – of fossil fuels is already providing significant sources of energy in several countries, through two technologies which do not require extraction. These are known as Coal Bed Methane (CBM) and Underground Coal Gasification (UCG). In this exclusive study for the Mines and Communities’ website experienced mining geologist, Mark Muller, evaluates the potential of both these technologies for one of the most energy-deficient countries in Asia – Bangladesh. Although Mr Muller doesn’t claim that either CBM or UCG are without disadvantages, including potential adverse impacts on land and water, they are nonetheless classified as “clean” by several agencies, including the US EPA and the World Bank. Few “lesser-developing” states have given these technologies the attention they surely merit. As debate rages on whether conventional coal mining is justified, especially in poorer countries, Muller’s work provides a timely, well-argued, case for promoting some of the alternatives.
Bedding-down with the black stuff
Coal Bed Methane development (CBM) isn’t without its disadvantages, or potential for damage, as was demonstrated last month when the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that companies “capturing” coal bed methane had been adversely affecting water supplied for farming. However, UCG is now being promoted in India as a viable alternative to creating further havoc and poisoning from existing open-cast coal mining. It remains to be seen whether either of these technologies will now be taken seriously elsewhere in Asia – notably in Bangladesh, where opposition to conventional coal extraction remains strident and strong.
Other reports:
I went to the mountain top – and they’re still mining coal
Coal’s a burning problem in the Philippines
New film exposes “hell on earth” in India’s eastern coal fields