Coal Provides Energy Security
By: Bill Reid
General Richard Lawson
“Unlike some forms of energy, coal poses few security issues during the production, distribution or
storage stages. Nearly all the coal used in the U.S. is mined domestically and shipped by rail or through the waterway system to power generators, steel mills, cement processing facilities and other industrial users”, says the National Energy Security Post 9/11 report. “One commercial slurry pipeline exists but because coal is not as combustiable as natural gas and petroleum products, transport via pipeline does not offer a very inviting target to terrorists. Once delivered to its end user, most coal storage facilities are part of a utility or an industrial complex where appropriate security measures are in place. Because coal is a solid, it poses little risk to the surrounding public and would not be a target for terrorists. In the event of an emergency, the coal industry could increase production fairly quickly or meet increased demand for fuel for electricity and would only be hampered by possible transportation constraints.”
The United States Energy Association (USEA) is the U.S. Member Committee of the World Energy Council. USEA, an association of public and private energy related organizations, corporations, and government agencies, represents the broad interests of the U.S. Energy Sector by increasing the understanding of energy issues both domestically and internationally. The USEA Board of Directors in light of the tragedy of September 11, 2001 approved the National Energy Security Project under the leadership of Richard Lawson, Chairman of its National Energy Policy Committee. A working group representing all sectors of the energy industry prepared the report National Energy Security Post 9/11.
On September 11, 2001 ten terrorists flew two planes into the World Trade Center Towers killing more than 3,000 people, many from other nations and many more fireman, police officers, and emergency team personnel who rushed to respond to the unfolding disaster. Within the hour passengers in another plane perished in Pennsylvania. Ordinary people willing to risk their lives to save the lives of people they would never meet and then the Pentagon. These events riveted everyone’s attention on homeland security.
People are rightly asking uncomfortable questions, says the report. How can we be better prepared against future attacks on critical infrastructures, including U.S. energy systems? Are our energy supplies vulnerable to attack? How can energy generating in storage facilities be made safer? What about transportation systems and transmission lines? Are government and industry leaders working together to develop continuancy plans to protect the public? What polices would enhance U.S. energy security?
The report National Energy Security Post 9/11:
• Sets forth policy recommendations for improving the U.S. energy infrastructure
• Summarizes emerging trends in U.S. energy production supply and demand
• Asses the contributions that renewable energy conservation and advanced technologies can make to improve U.S. energy security
• Critiques the easy answers such as capping energy imports at a certain level
• Explores the potential of a North American energy infrastructure
• Identifies regulatory and financial barriers to increased domestic energy production
• Sets forth by sector and more generally recommendations for improving U.S. energy security and the infrastructure that delivers a broad range of energy supplies to more than 286 million American families, businesses, factories, farms, and homes.
Part One of this article focuses on the coal industry. Coal, says the report, continues to account for approximately one third of the United States primary energy production and for about 23% of U.S. energy consumption. While coal is principally used to generate electricity, it is also essential to the production of steel and to other industrial processes including the production of cement. The coal which is exported contributes to economic development worldwide. With more than 500 billion tons of demonstrated coal reserve of which 275 billion tons are economically recoverable using existing technologies, the U.S. has sufficient coal reserves to meet growing coal demand for well over 200 years.
U.S. coal production first exceeded one billion tons annually in 1990 and has exceeded that level every year since 1994. During the past two decades, average productivity in the coal industry has increased by nearly 250% reflecting in part, shifts from underground to surface production and in part, technological advances in mining operations. Coal production is expected to increase by some 200 million tons or by just over 18% by the end of the next decade, reaching 1.284 billion tons in 2010. The increase will be used to generate electricity, although coal’s share of total electrical generation will decline slightly from its current 51%. Coal used for steel making, for other industrial purposes and for export is expected to remain relatively stable over the next ten years.
According to the report, the strategic initiative of the Department of Defense recognizes that any U.S. movement toward becoming less dependent on foreign sources of energy must place a stronger emphasis on supplementing petroleum based fuels with clean fuels from a more diverse, domestic resource base including the nation’s large coal reserve. The concept that would use domestic coal for clean fuel production specifically envisions:
• Developing an initial U.S. based coal to liquid fuels production capacity.
• Building the first commercial scale U.S. based coal fuels plant and specifically allocating its liquid fuel product to military and civilian defense applications.
• Pioneering the use of synthesis gas derived fuels in mobile and stationery applications.
The production of coalbed methane for a wide spectrum of energy requirements is of additional interest says the report. One of the most abundant sources of methane is found in coal seams. Coalbed methane is removed from coalmines in advance of mining and is often very high quality acceptable for immediate injection in natural gas pipelines. With technology to accommodate the capture and utilization of the gas now available, what is needed is an incentive for coal operators to invest in new technologies to capture coalmine methane during the mining process and afterwards. Methane is 21 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and avoiding its release to the atmosphere can contribute substantially to protection of the global environment. At least 40% or 88 billion cubic feet of coalbed methane per year could be recovered. This equates to removing almost 8 million cars from the highways.
The major question facing the coal industry, explains the report, is not whether production can meet higher levels of demand but whether projected demand will ever materialize. Coal based powerplants are subject to over two dozen major Clean Air Act requirements and likely will face more during the next ten years. The cost associated with these requirements and the uncertainty about additional regulations to reduce SO2, NOX and mercury, continue to discourage construction of new coal fired powerplants which are needed to meet anticipated demand.
Mandatory short-term controls on carbon emissions that would be required under the Kyoto Protocol present an even greater danger to the national security and energy security benefits afforded by coal. The U.S. has wisely stated that it will not be bound by this international treaty. Over the last two decades, the use of new technologies and improved operating practices have improved the “environmental efficiency” per ton of coal consumed by nearly 70%.
Over the longer term, coal’s future depends on the use of clean coal technologies that are now or soon will be ready for deployment. Given even limited incentives, a number of new clean coal plants could be operational within ten years. The future of coal depends heavily on research programs jointly funded by industry and government.
Part two of this article on thed report will focus on the recommendations with regard to the coal industry. See next month’s Coal Leader. cl
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