Okay, it isn’t a shock to long-time readers that the US Geological Survey sharply scaled back projections of economically-recoverable US coal (see “Are we approaching peak coal? Part 1” and “Part 2“). As I reported in January, the USGS concluded:
The coal reserves estimate for the Gillette coalfield is 10.1 billion short tons of coal (6 percent of the original resource total).
Although it didn’t get much media attention, this December report was a shocker because the USGS is highly credible and the Gillette field, within Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, “is the most prolific coalfield in the United States” and in 2006 provided “over 37 percent of the Nation’s total yearly production.”
But I think it’s a shocker that the Wall Street Journal finally makes it their front page story, “U.S. Foresees a Thinner Cushion of Coal.” The piece discusses the USGS survey — and facts on the ground:
Mining companies report they have to dig deeper and move more earth to extract coal from aging mines, driving up costs. Utilities have grown skittish about whether suppliers can ship promised coal on time.Co., the nation’s biggest coal buyer, says it has stepped up its due diligence to make sure its suppliers can make deliveries after some firms missed shipments last fall. It even bought a mine to lock down supplies.
“We are very much concerned, and it’s getting worse,” said Tim Light, senior vice president for AEP.
The WSJ has an important graph comparing coal production by region. And yes, the WSJ used the term “Peak Coal,” though perhaps “Peak Coal East of the Mississippi” might be more accurate.
Q: What happens if coal gets more expensive for Eastern and Southeastern utilities, because of the rising cost of Eastern coal and/or the transportation costs associated with Western coal (especially as peak oil drives prices back to record levels and beyond over the next several years)?
A: A bunch of good things from the perspective of trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the lowest possible cost while jumpstarting the transition to a clean energy economy.