20 December 2008

Will 'peak oil' spur expanded coal use? And what does it mean for climate?

Whether oil is succeeded by coal or renewables will have major impact on climate

mongabay.com, December, 19, 2008

The world must phase out emissions from coal by 2030 to avert dangerous climate change, said scientists speaking at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

Arguing that the planet will face environmental constraints well before fossil fuel resources are exhausted, scientists including Jim Hansen, Pushker Kharecha, and Ken Caldeira urged leaders to take bold action to leave coal in the ground and promote the development of low-carbon energy sources including wind, solar, and geothemal.

"Addressing the climate problem means addressing the coal problem," said Caldeira, a researcher at the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University. "Whether there's a little more oil or a little less oil will change the details, but if we want to change the overall shape of the warming curve, it matters what we do with coal."

"Oil and gas by themselves don't have enough carbon to keep us in the dangerous zone for very long by themselves, but that's assuming we do something about coal," said Kharecha, a researcher at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) and Columbia University. "There are currently more than enough fossil fuels and coal to push us well past safe atmospheric CO2 levels."

The 2007 rise in global carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations is tied with 2005 as the third highest since atmospheric measurements began in 1958. The red line shows the trend together with seasonal variations. The black line indicates the trend that emerges when the seasonal cycle has been removed. (Credit: NOAA)

Coal is the world's most abundant of readily available fossil fuels, but emits 25 to 50 percent more carbon dioxide per energy unit than oil. As recoverable oil reserves dwindle, there will be increasing pressure to convert coal to liquid fuels as well as exploit unconventional fossil fuels like methane hydrates, tar sands, and oil shale. Developing these energy sources would carry even a higher cost to climate.

"We can replace oil with liquid fuels derived from coal," Caldeira explained. "But these liquid fuels emit even more carbon dioxide than oil, so the end of oil can mean an increase in coal and even more carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere, and even more rapid onset of dangerous climate change."

Modeling future climate change under different scenarios for energy use, Caldeira estimated that replacing oil with coal-to-liquids would lead to a 2°C (3.6°F) rise in temperatures by 2042 — three years earlier than a business-as-usual scenario with oil. Replacing coal with solar, wind, or nuclear would delay a 2°C (3.6°F) rise until 2056.

Jim Hansen, a prominent climate expert from NASA GISS and Columbia University, called for a carbon tax -- rather than cap-and-trade -- to encourage a shift away from carbon-intensive fuels. To minimize the economic impact and political cost of the scheme, he suggested returning the proceeds of the levy to taxpayers.

"A carbon tax will raise energy prices... but people will find ways to reduce carbon emissions... to come out ahead," he said. "Product demand will spur economic activity and innovation."

Hansen has set 350 parts-per-million (ppm) as the target for a safe level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The current level is around 385 ppm and rising at a rate of more than 2 parts per million (ppm) year as a result of fossil fuel emissions, agriculture, and deforestation.

Copyright mongabay 2008

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Clifford J. Wirth, Ph.D. said...

Peak Oil will not mean more coal use. As economies collapse, factories, offices, and plazas will close.

The coal to liquids plants are very capital intensive and will never be built.

Independent studies conclude that Peak Oil production will occur (or has occurred) between 2005 to 2010 (projected year for peak in parentheses), as follows:

* Association for the Study of Peak Oil (2007)

* Rembrandt Koppelaar, Editor of “Oil Watch Monthly” (2008 to 2010)

* Tony Eriksen, Oil stock analyst (2008)

* Matthew Simmons, Energy investment banker, (2007)

* T. Boone Pickens, Oil and gas investor (2007)

* U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (2005)

* Kenneth S. Deffeyes, Princeton professor and retired shell Geologist (2005)

* Sam Sam Bakhtiari, Retired Iranian National Oil Company geologist (2005)

* Chris Skrebowski, Editor of “Petroleum Review” (2010)

* Sadad Al Husseini, former head of production and exploration, Saudi Aramco (2008)

* Energy Watch Group in Germany (2006)

Independent studies indicate that global crude oil production will now decline from 74 million barrels per day to 60 million barrels per day by 2015. During the same time, demand will increase. Oil supplies will be even tighter for the U.S. As oil producing nations consume more and more oil domestically they will export less and less. Because demand is high in China, India, the Middle East, and other oil producing nations, once global oil production begins to decline, demand will always be higher than supply. And since the U.S. represents one fourth of global oil demand, whatever oil we conserve will be consumed elsewhere. Thus, conservation in the U.S. will not slow oil depletion rates significantly.

Alternatives will not even begin to fill the gap. And most alternatives yield electric power, but we need liquid fuels for tractors/combines, 18 wheel trucks, trains, ships, and mining equipment. The independent scientists of the Energy Watch Group conclude in a 2007 report titled: “Peak Oil Could Trigger Meltdown of Society:”

"By 2020, and even more by 2030, global oil supply will be dramatically lower. This will create a supply gap which can hardly be closed by growing contributions from other fossil, nuclear or alternative energy sources in this time frame."


With increasing costs for gasoline and diesel, along with declining taxes and declining gasoline tax revenues, states and local governments will eventually have to cut staff and curtail highway maintenance. Eventually, gasoline stations will close, and state and local highway workers won’t be able to get to work. We are facing the collapse of the highways that depend on diesel and gasoline powered trucks for bridge maintenance, culvert cleaning to avoid road washouts, snow plowing, and roadbed and surface repair. When the highways fail, so will the power grid, as highways carry the parts, large transformers, steel for pylons, and high tension cables from great distances. With the highways out, there will be no food coming from far away, and without the power grid virtually nothing modern works, including home heating, pumping of gasoline and diesel, airports, communications, and automated building systems.

This is documented in a free 48 page report that can be downloaded, website posted, distributed, and emailed: http://www.peakoilassociates.com/POAnalysis.html

I used to live in NH-USA, but moved to a sustainable place. Anyone interested in relocating to a nice, pretty, sustainable area with a good climate and good soil? Email: clifford dot wirth at yahoo dot com or give me a phone call which operates here as my old USA-NH number 603-668-4207. http://survivingpeakoil.blogspot.com/

Awicaksono said...

Thanks for your comment. I've read your blog and articles. Interesting that you managed to escape from the growth hunger country.. Wish I can do the same...