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Peak Coal Puts a New Spin on Global Warming Predictions

Jeff Siegel | Monday August 9th, 2010 | 4 Comments

Here’s a new spin on the climate change debate for ya…

Tad Patzek, chair of the Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering Department at the University of Texas and well-known energy expert, has recently come out and said that climate change predictions should be revised.

Is it because he uncovered the great liberal conspiracy of global warming?

Is it because a new report funded by Exxon proves that climate change isn’t real?

Is it because a hacked e-mail from an IPCC researcher just brought to light proves that in 1983, Al Gore snuck into NORAD with Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy, and manipulated climate data in the military supercomputer known as WOPR, using a backdoor password to Falken’s Maze?

Actually, none of those reasons made the cut.

You see, Patzek is warning that climate change predictions need to be revised because most of today’s predictions are not accounting for the peak and decline of coal production after 2011.

Now bear with me, because this is pretty good stuff…

The IPCC has 40 different climate change scenarios. But Patzek has indicated that 36 of those scenarios predict future carbon production and emissions using current rates of coal production.

Clearly, an integral piece of climate change data is not being accounted for.

Coal, coal everywhere… but not really

In the past, the United States has been called the Saudi Arabia of coal, boasting a 250-year supply.

This 250-year estimate was in fact accurate — about 30 years ago, when it was based on USGS data from the 1970s.

However, in 2007, the National Academy of Sciences studied updated USGS surveys and found that at current rates of consumption, there’s probably only enough coal to meet our needs for about 100 years.

Think about that for a second.

That’s a pretty big discrepancy, considering you’re talking about a resource that we rely on for roughly half of the country’s power generation.

And for an even more sobering look at domestic coal supply shortfalls, consider the Energy Watch Group’s (EWG) study that examined the energy content of our coal supplies.

This study was actually referenced in my book, Investing in Renewable Energy:

For comparison purposes, EWG translated the energy content of the coal into tons of oil equivalent. In terms of volumes of stuff mined, they found that U.S. coal production can continue to grow for about another 10 to 15 years. But in terms of energy, which is the only metric that really matters, U.S. coal production peaked in 1998 at 598 million tons of oil equivalent, and had fallen to 576 million by 2005.

Now if the National Academy of Sciences and the Energy Watch Group are correct, then this puts a whole new spin on the value of some so-called “clean” energy technologies that the government and special interests are trying to push.

Another round of poor government policies

If you’re a frequent reader of these pages, you know we don’t buy the clean coal myth for a second.

No matter how you slice it, coal ain’t clean. And the promise of carbon sequestration does not change that.

Also consider that carbon sequestration actually decreases the efficiency of a power plant.

Knowing that we only have a finite supply of coal, does it really make sense to expedite the depletion of this supply with carbon capture and sequestration?

As Patzek points out:

The current global hysteria around carbon capture and sequestration is leading to desperately poor government policies. For instance, large-scale subsurface sequestration of CO2 will decrease power plant efficiency by up to 50 percent.

After the November elections, both Democrats and Republicans will be gearing up to push their own energy agendas. I suspect both sides will champion carbon sequestration as a clean energy option.

After all, King Coal’s access to Washington is V.I.P. — while yours is “by appointment only,” if you’re lucky enough to get that far.

But at the end of the day, the basic fundamentals of supply and demand will show that carbon sequestration is probably not the most economically sustainable way to transition to a cleaner energy economy.

That doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

Rest assured, there are a lot of fat cats in Washington more than willing to trade your tax dollars for campaign contributions, just to continue the “clean coal” lie.

Here’s a list of the top 20 recipients of coal mining lucre for 2010:

  • Rob Portman (R-OH) – $69,275
  • Daniel Mongiardo (D-KY) – $64,599
  • Roy Blut (R-MO) – $48,200
  • John Hoeven (R-ND) – $44,609
  • Nick Rahall (D-WV) – $44,000
  • Richard C. Shelby (R-AL) – $36,300
  • Evan Bayh (D-IN) – $30,750
  • James W DeMint (R-SC) – $26,823
  • Joe Barton (R-TX) – $26,290
  • John M Shimkus (R-IL) – $25,500
  • Ben Quayle (R-AZ) – $24,000
  • Carly Fiorina (R-CA) – $23,399
  • Pat Toomey (R-PA) – $22,945
  • Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) – $22,100
  • John Thune (R-SD) – $21,084
  • Robert R Simmons (R-CT) – $20,410
  • David Vitter (R-LA) – $19,678
  • Trey Grayson (R-KY) – $19,100
  • Rick Boucher (D-VA) – $18,900
  • Geoff Davis (R-KY) – $18,600

And who says both parties can’t come together on important issues?!

You can see the original list of recipients at opensecrets.org.


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  • mememine

    Funded by political taxes or funded by Exxon?

    Can anyone think for themselve's anymore? The planet is just fine. It's the people and mainscream media that are wacked.
    Scientitsts, priests, politicians, bankers, Bernie Madoff, bad cops………………………………………lesson learned.

  • kuke

    Don't worry, there's plenty of coal around the world… Mongolia's closest to China and India. At least India's taxing coal now – albeit lightly.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jen.boynton Jen Boynton

    I don't get how CCS expedites the depletion of coal. Can you elaborate?

    • Joe

      CCS lowers the efficiency of the power plant. You end up needing more coal to get the same power generation as you had before CCS.

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