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January 24 News: 2012 Outlook for American Coal is “Grim”

By Stephen Lacey  

"January 24 News: 2012 Outlook for American Coal is “Grim”"

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Other stories below: John Podesta on why we need to continue leadership in clean energy; Obama to tout natural gas in State of the Union

Coal Industry Losing Steam

This year’s outlook is grim for the U.S coal industry, which after two years of rising profits has begun closing mines, signaling a new wave of production cutbacks and, possibly, another round of industry consolidation.

The country’s biggest coal producers, which begin reporting fourth-quarter results on Tuesday with St. Louis-based Peabody Energy Corp., should provide insight into how bad this year could be. Most should meet Wall Street’s earnings expectations for the last quarter of 2011 on export gains over a year ago, while tempering investor expectations for 2012, say analysts.

The two biggest threats facing U.S. coal companies are the low price of domestic natural gas, which is making thermal coal a less-attractive fuel for their utility-customers, and the shaky economic picture in Europe, which is damping exports of metallurgical coal.

Demand among European steelmakers has fallen off, pushing down the benchmark price for the highest grades of coal by nearly 30% over the past year. Also damping prices is tougher federal emissions rules for U.S. utilities, resulting in more planned closures of coal-fired generating plants and eroding the market for thermal coal.

We Don’t Need More Foreign Oil and Gas, America is poised to be the world’s clean energy leader

In the hubbub around the president’s decision not to approve the proposed Keystone XL pipeline between Canada and the United States, Americans missed the big picture. While conservatives have been fighting to build a pipeline to import more foreign oil and deepen U.S. dependence, the U.S. is poised to transform its energy portfolio by developing domestic resources—renewable and mineral—that will let it become a net exporter of clean energy and energy technology in this decade.

Under President Obama’s leadership, we appear to be at the beginning of a domestic gas and oil boom. After a four-decade decline in oil production, the U.S. is now producing more than half of our oil domestically. This can free us from our addiction to foreign-sourced barrels, particularly if we utilize our dramatically larger and cheaper natural gas reserves. Natural gas now costs the equivalent of less than $15 per barrel, versus the $100-plus barrels we import from the Middle East.

There are critical environmental questions associated with developing these resources, particularly concerning methane leakage and water pollution. Yet as long as we ensure high regulatory standards and stay away from the riskiest and most polluting of these activities, we can safely assemble a collection of lower-carbon, affordable and abundant domestic-energy assets that will dramatically improve our economy and our environment. Under President Obama’s watch, increased domestic production from developing these reserves has already created 75,000 new gas and oil-production jobs since 2009. And we have much further to go.

Obama to tout natural gas benefits in State of Union

President Barack Obama will encourage the country’s booming natural gas output in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, while defending his administration’s energy record, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Obama was expected to devote a significant portion of his speech slated for 9 p.m. EST Tuesday calling for a “new era for American energy,” which will include promoting domestic natural gas production, according to documents provided to Democratic party sources.

U.S. natural gas output has grown sharply in recent years thanks to advances in drilling techniques that have unlocked massive shale reserves.

Obama has repeatedly stressed the importance of domestic natural gas output, pointing to natural gas as a possible area of compromise for Democrats and Republicans.

Chesapeake to Cut Number of Gas Rigs

Chesapeake Energy, the nation’s second biggest natural gas producer, announced Monday that it would cut production of gas in response to plummeting prices.

The announcement was not unexpected, and it followed a trend that has been under way for several months: oil and gas companies have been transferring drilling rigs to oil fields from natural gas fields. But given that Chesapeake has been the industry’s most public champion of natural gas, its announcement of an 8 percent cut in daily production led to a substantial rally in gas prices that had fallen last week to their lowest level in a decade.

Natural gas prices have been steadily falling over the last two years because of a glut stemming from mushrooming production in shale fields like the Haynesville in Louisiana, the Barnett in Texas and the Marcellus in Pennsylvania. Warm weather so far this winter has also cut normal seasonal demand significantly.

Aubrey K. McClendon, Chesapeake’s chief executive, said in a statement, “We have committed to cut our dry gas drilling to bare minimum levels.”

EIA: U.S. using less foreign oil, carbon emissions flatlining

The U.S. Energy Information Administration just released its Annual Energy Outlook 2012 report, and three things stick out: The United States is dramatically curbing its oil imports, carbon emissions are flatlining and we have less shale gas than once thought. Here’s a rundown:

1) The United States is reducing its dependence on foreign oil. According to EIA forecasts (which, do note, are far from perfect), Americans will likely continue restraining their gasoline consumption, thanks, in part, to the Obama administration’s new fuel-economy standards for cars and lights trucks. Meanwhile, oil and gas production in places such as North Dakota has been booming, thanks to higher prices and new drilling technology. Put those together, the EIA calculates, and the United States is set to import just 36 percent of its petroleum by 2035, down from 60 percent in 2005.

David vs. Goliath or even money? Greens weigh their election-year matchup

After a week that saw President Obama and a conservative group backed by the Koch brothers trade multimillion-dollar jabs over energy jobs on the airwaves of six states, one thing is clear: The 2012 election’s environmental narrative is taking shape fast.

Less certain is the kind of conservationist cavalry that Obama’s re-election campaign can count on as it sells his record to voters in the face of a likely onslaught from business groups irate at his rejection of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. As the XL project and bankrupt solar firm Solyndra migrate from Capitol hearing rooms to TVs across the nation, greens are counting on their grass-roots to fill the fundraising gap.

“We can’t compete with Big Oil in terms of campaign cash — we don’t have tens of millions of dollars to throw into TV ads — but we can outcompete Big Oil in terms of people,” Sierra Club chief Michael Brune said in an interview.

But Brune acknowledged that “of course we’re worried” about the financial muscle that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Petroleum Institute (API) and other groups can bring to the table this year to pitch the benefits of Keystone XL to the public.

Unlocking Seaweed’s Next-Gen Crude: Sugar

Seaweed often brings to mind thoughts of surf and sushi, not fuel. But that could change if a biotechnology start-up called Bio Architecture Lab succeeds in building a new kind of energy company from designer bacteria and a low-cost process for harvesting seaweed.

The key is a genetically modified strain of Escherichia coli bacterium, which can break down the sugars in brown seaweed, or macro-algae, to produce ethanol, according to new research published in the peer-reviewed journal Science.

As one of the 14 study authors, BAL’s co-founder and chief science officer, Yasuo Yoshikuni, explained in an interview by phone, “Sugar is the next-generation crude oil — it can go to fuels and chemicals.” BAL’s breakthrough, he says, is about finding a way to “unlock the sugars in seaweed.”

Sun’s changes unlikely to slow global warming, scientists say

A reduction in the Sun’s activity is expected this century, but is unlikely to do much to slow global warming due to greenhouse gases, scientists said on Monday.

Research by the Met Office and the University of Reading looked at the most likely changes in the Sun’s activity and found that its output was likely to decrease up to 2100, from the “grand maximum” seen in the 20th century.

But this would only cause a reduction in global temperatures of about 0.08C over that time, in comparison to projected rises of 2.5C by 2100 as a result of rising greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Even if solar activity fell to levels seen in the so-called Maunder minimum, between 1645 and 1715, when the Sun’s output was at its lowest recorded level, the reduction in temperature would only be 0.13C.

The study looked at a range of possible projections of solar activity over the coming century and then applied them to one climate model, taken from the middle of the range of models, to see how it might affect temperatures.

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Clean Start: January 24, 2012 ›

34 Responses to January 24 News: 2012 Outlook for American Coal is “Grim”

  1. prokaryotes says:

    Long lived CFC’s, Methane – Nitrous Oxide uptake and the destruction of the northern hemisphere Ozone Layer http://climateforce.net/2012/01/24/long-lived-cfcs-methane-nitrous-oxide-uptake-and-the-destruction-of-the-northern-hemisphere-ozone-layer/

    • prokaryotes says:

      Another lessons about predictibility and reliability of climate modeling:

      This Ozone hole over the arctic was predicted by models, back in 1998 (NASA’s Drew Shindell).

  2. prokaryotes says:

    Climate Change – Carbon fluxes in the East Siberian Sea http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U_rOjgvr0qI

  3. Raindog says:

    The main reason that the outlook for coal is grim is the rise of shale gas. Shale gas is good news for the environment. Switching from coal to gas is like switching from a hummer to a hybrid.

    • Leif says:

      Or line poisoning your air less and drinking water more.

      • Raindog says:

        One of the problems is that people don’t really seem to understand just how bad coal is. Coal mining has hopelessly polluted more than 5000 miles of streams and rivers. Here is a quote from an article:

        “Mining activities and inactive mine sites can generate a variety of pollutants, including some of the most environmentally detrimental compounds of any discharging activity. In Appalachia alone, there are around 66,500 documented sources of active and inactive coal mines which have polluted an estimated 10,500 miles of streams. In the eastern U.S., there are around 4000 active or abandoned coal piles and impoundments totaling 3 X 109 tons of refuse. Midwestern mines generate runoff that affects over 5000 miles of streams and rivers (Cohen and Gorman, 1991).”

        http://www.water.ncsu.edu/watershedss/dss/wetland/aqlife/mining.html

        Show me an instance where fracking has done anything close to this. In fact there has been very little actual pollution of water anywhere as a result of fracking. Lots of faux news stories about it but when you dig down you find out that there isn’t much to it. It is always “fracking may contaminate groundwater” but rarely “here is the evidence that fracking contaminates groundwater.” There was a scare a year ago about radioactive wastewater but no one ever found any water downstream of a treatment plant that had elevated radionuclides. So lots of “this may happen” but very little “here is the evidence that this is happening has happened”

        Unfortunately, environmental groups have been duped by a few unscrupulous journalists who see a great way to sell papers here. Coal is far worse for air, GHGs, water and land use. There is no way in which it is better from an environmental perspective.

    • prokaryotes says:

      “Shale Gas creates 40-60% more methane to the atmosphere from the natural gas industry, than conventional gas.” – Professor R. Howard
      http://climateforce.net/2012/01/20/breaking-natural-gas-venting-a-major-global-warming-contributor/

      • Raindog says:

        It is Howarth not Howard.

        Howarth’s paper was terrible. He did not know too much about the oil and gas industry and made some really silly mistakes. First the amount of gas that they thought escaped during drilling and fracking is way too high. Second, the gas that does escape is mainly flared and emitted as CO2 not methane. Gas lost in piplelines is mainly withdrawn on purpose and used to power compressors (where it is again released as CO2 not methane) – they assumed this all escaped as methane. For those who are interested, at least 6 papers have been published since Howarth et al (from groups that probably understand the subject better than Howarth who is a biologist) that all come up with gas emitting about half the GHGs on a life-cycle basis of coal.

        For those who are interested in getting to the bottom of this critical issue here is a link to a site that has links to these papers:

        masterresource.org/2011/11/shale-gas-cornell-criticism/

        • prokaryotes says:

          Raindog, Howarth, released a follow up study just days ago. You might want to read my entire post.. also his conclusions are in agreement with NCAR and others (see Joe’s post just minutes ago on the frontpage now).

          Cheers

    • Mike Roddy says:

      Shale gas is bad news for the environment. It perpetuates fossil fuels, damages watersheds, and may emit as much CO2 as coal.

  4. Lou Grinzo says:

    No, shale gas is not good for the environment. Yes, switching a lot of coal to it is a good thing in the very short run, assuming that that’s the only use we make of the new gas supply. But once you get a couple of decades out we’re suddenly stuck with gas-fired electricity capacity that’s less than halfway through its intended service lifetime, yet emits far too much CO2 per kWh of generated electricity. We have so little time to cut our emissions that we don’t have the luxury of signing up for that level of infrastructure lock-in and dealing with it later.

    We are like a college student who wants to let work on a paper slide and then finish it via an all-nighter, except it’s already 3AM and the paper has to be handed in at 8AM. We’ve used up all the slack in our schedule, yet we keep acting as if we have another week or two to finish our paper.

    • fj says:

      yes, and same thing might be applied to electric cars.

      we are definitely going to need a lot of energy for a lot of life-critical things like water.

    • Raindog says:

      Shale gas is not good for the environment – this is true. It is just way better than what we are doing now. Wind is not good for the environment either. Nor is solar for that matter. all these things need to have material mined and manufacturing causes pollution. They are just way better than coal and significantly better than gas. You have to put it all in the context of what you will do if you don’t do shale gas wind or solar. You can’t only look at the downside or we would never do anything. Switching from coal to gas is like switching from a hummer to a hybrid. Fighting shale gas is like fighting manufacturing of hybrid or high mileage cars. Yes they are still cars but if everyone drove them it would be a huge improvement over what we are doing now.

      • Paul Magnus says:

        I dont think so. To address this situation we need critical think and the right action.

        The right action is to move off fossil fuels right away. The situation is calling for an emergency response. Our leaders are failing us in not stepping up to the plate here and doing the required and bringing people on board with the required action.

  5. Raul M. says:

    My hydroponics experiment is going well. I haven’t changed the water in more than a month nor added fertilizer or anything for the plants and amazingly it is still living.
    On my next experiment I’ll try picking plants suitable for the hydro system and then actually do some work to make a crop.
    Amazing that those plants are still living whiteout care in a designed environment.
    Intelligent design but lousy care!

  6. Mike Roddy says:

    A grim outlook for the American coal industry translates into an improved outlook for everybody else.

    • fj says:

      Oil also, where globally over 1.3 million people are killed and 50 million gravely injured in road accidents each year in direct violence, many more in the structural violence:

      Such as, the 1-2 billion people living in severe poverty with 40-year life expectancies easily remedied by a small fraction of the $0.5 trillion wasted on fossil fuel subsidies and many $trillions more in expensive wasteful infrastructure, a $4 trillion Iraq war, massive corruption of global governance, etc. . . .

  7. prokaryotes says:

    Gender Bending in the Rockies

    Naturally masculine female marmots could shed light on the ways environment can impact biology http://www.onearth.org/article/gender-bending-in-the-rockies

  8. prokaryotes says:

    “The Beaches Are Sparkling!” and Other BP Apologia http://www.onearth.org/blog/the-beaches-are-sparkling

    GOM shrimp anyone?

  9. prokaryotes says:

    Jeff H your chance to communicate your thoughts directly with the president

    http://www.youtube.com/whitehouse?feature=inp-gh-SOU

    This link is currently advertised by youTube … cool!

  10. Joan Savage says:

    Arctic Ocean freshwater bulge detected

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-16657122

    Time-lapse animation shows shifts in the bulge due to wind and current.

    <blockquote cite=".. seen occurring is precisely what the climate models had predicted," said Dr Giles.

    "When you have clockwise rotation – the fresh water is stored. If the wind goes the other way – and that has happened in the past – then the fresh water can be pushed to the margins of the Arctic Ocean.

    "If the spin-up starts to spin down, the fresh water could be released. It could go to the rest of the Arctic Ocean or even leave the Arctic Ocean."

  11. prokaryotes says:

    The Danish gravy train stops

    Bjorn is getting kicked off the gravy train

    Denmark’s general election last year ushered in a new administration less keen to support his views. Earlier this month, the Danish government confirmed that it had cut more than £1 million in funding for Lomborg’s centre. As a result, he only has funding in place until the end of June. http://rabett.blogspot.com/2012/01/danish-gravy-train-stops.html

    Some good news…

  12. Colorado Bob says:

    The Bureau of Meteorology has issued a severe weather warning for today, saying flooding could worsen in some areas, with more heavy rain predicted throughout the day and for the rest of the week.

    Springbrook on the Gold Coast has recorded 325 millimetres of rain in the past 24 hours, while Brisbane has had up to 250 millimetres and there have been similar falls on the Sunshine Coasts.
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-01-25/wednesday-floods/3791492

  13. prokaryotes says:

    Category 4 Funso kills 12 in Mozambique; deadly Alabama tornado rated an EF-3

    Earth’s first major tropical cyclone of 2012 is Tropical Cyclone Funso, a Category 4 storm with 135 mph winds located in the Mozambique Channel between Madagascar and Mozambique. Conditions for intensification have been favorable over the past few days, with light wind shear of 5 – 10 knots, water temperatures of 29°C, and a pocket of high oceanic heat content with warm waters extending to great depth located under the center of the storm. Funso is expected to intensify further and have sustained winds of 145 mph by Wednesday. Fortunately, the center of the storm is expected to remain offshore as the storm moves slowly southwards. The outer spiral bands of Funso have dumped torrential rains on Mozambique the past several days, triggering floods that have killed at least twelve people. The floods have swept across the main north-south highway in the country, cutting off the capital of Maputo from the north and center of the country. Flooding from Funso was made worse by the saturated soils left by Tropical Depression Dando, whose rains caused flooding that killed ten people in the country last week.

    http://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/comment.html?entrynum=2019

  14. prokaryotes says:

    Join my new facebook page Climate Progress Network

    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Climate-Progress-Network/196805450415712?sk=wall

    The page is basically to coordinate a new community site i working on at http://climateprogress.net I’m still not entirely sure how i will extend the site… Feedback is welcome! As is support or contributions.

  15. Decline in solar output unlikely to offset global warming

    23 January 2012 – New research has found that solar output is likely to reduce over the next 90 years but that will not substantially delay expected increases in global temperatures caused by greenhouse gases.

    Carried out by the Met Office and the University of Reading, the study establishes the most likely changes in the Sun’s activity and looks at how this could affect near-surface temperatures on Earth.

    It found that the most likely outcome was that the Sun’s output would decrease up to 2100, but this would only cause a reduction in global temperatures of 0.08 °C. This compares to an expected warming of about 2.5 °C over the same period due to greenhouse gases (according to the IPCC’s B2 scenario for greenhouse gas emissions that does not involve efforts to mitigate emissions).

    http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/news/releases/archive/2012/solar-output-research

  16. Colorado Bob says:

    Mexico offers $2.6 billion to aid victims of record drought
    Mexico City (AFP) Jan 24, 2012 – Mexican President Felipe Calderon on Tuesday announced a 2.6-billion-dollar program to help victims of a record drought, including food and water handouts, as rural victims protested in the capital.

    The “unprecedented sum would attend to a catastrophic situation in Mexico,” Calderon said during a public act. The aim “is that no family is without water or food due to this drought.”

    On the same page.

    “Have you got any food? I’m hungry,” Eusevino Pausen, a indigenous man, asked weakly after walking eight hours through the rugged mountains to seek help.

    Pausen is among some of the 220,000 Tarahumara Indians crowding at handout centers in the small mountain town of Creel after hiking from far flung villages across the remote region.

    “There’s a lack of food because there was no snow nor rain,” said Octavio Hijar, a director of a Tarahumara group distributing food in Creel.

    Desperation was palpable in Creel, one of the largest towns in the area. Many spoke of unemployment and a drop in tourism due to drug violence in the region known for its dramatic canyons.
    http://www.terradaily.com/reports/Hunger_drought_affect_Mexicos_Tarahumara_natives_999.html