2012 November 2

The Master Resource Report  2012-1102

Coal exports: There is more ahead than just a new record volume.

The October 19th issue of this report touched on likelihood of a new record volume for U.S. coal exports in 2012. Below are two consequences of these record setting coal exports.

The first confronts the issue of transporting potentially massive volumes of coal by rail to the west coast for export. The second examines whether the current exports from the U.S. are negating a substantial portion of the carbon emissions reduction seen in the U.S that have attributed to switching to shale gas for power generation.

Not through my backyard

TVW Special Report “Coal Crossroads”

“Coal Crossroads” is a one-hour documentary that investigates the controversy surrounding coal exports in Washington. The Pacific Northwest is poised to become the nation’s leading coal-exporting region as demand from Asian markets exerts a strong economic pull. Similar debates are also taking place concerning the expansion of exports facilities for oil and natural gas from Canada.

“In a follow-up episode of “The Impact,” they looked at one of the questions that people wanted to know after watching the documentary: Why don’t the coal companies simply cover the trains?

There is also a list of public meetings in the Northwest concerning this issue for those who may want to learn more below the videos on the documentary’s web page here.

Has shale gas reduced carbon emissions or not?

The October 19th issue of this report indicated that the U.S. is on course to set a new export record of coal. A few days later the EIA made similar projections and estimate that exports will reach 125 million tons for 2012.

Click image for larger view

One side effect of the success of U.S. coal exports is the degree to which may they have cancelled out the carbon emissions reduction experienced in the U.S. as shale gas displaced coal in the power generation sector. This question of displacement was addressed in a study just released by researchers at the University of Manchester.

The Study’s lead author Dr. John Broderick had this comment on how the coal to gas switching is being broadly viewed. “Research papers and newspaper column inches have focused on the relative emissions from coal and gas. However, it is the total quantity of CO2 from the energy system that matters to the climate.”

“The calculations presented in this report suggest that more than half of the emissions avoided in the US power sector may have been exported as coal. In total, this export is equivalent to 340 MtCO2 emissions elsewhere in the world, i.e. 52% of the 650 MtCO2 of potential emissions avoided within the US.” [Link is to full 29 page report pdf]

It is easy to forget that oil is not the only energy resource with global interactions. Changes in nuclear power use in Japan and the linkage of LNG prices to an oil benchmark impacted the price of seaborne LNG putting pressure on European power generators to expand their use of coal. Add this to the drop in the price of North American thermal coal to levels that made it more competitive in foreign markets and the movement of this carbon intensive fuel shifted off shore.

The issues of climate and energy are bonded at the hip. If either side in the debate over climate and energy forget that relationship the outcome will be unsatisfactory for everyone. One sided solutions are destine to fail the test of time.

The Colbert Report – Liquid Metal Battery

MIT Professor Donald Sadoway spoke with Stephen Colbert about his liquid metal battery. No kidding, a discussion about liquid metal batteries on The Colbert Report on Comedy Central.