By Dan Shapley
Coal reserves could run out 150 years earlier than previously thought By Dan Shapley News Editor
The United States may have a lot less coal than previously thought, according to a National Academy of Sciences report released this week. While it's often said that coal is cheap, domestic and abundant, known reserves accessible with current technology could run out within 100 years -- not 250, a is often said, according to the report
. "It is clear that there is enough coal at current rates of production to meet anticipated needs through 2030, and probably enough for 100 years" the report states. "However, it is not possible to confirm the often-quoted assertion that there is a sufficient supply for the next 250 years." The NAS report recommends investing $10 million annually in research to better define the nation's actual reserves, and it makes the point that the use of coal in the coming decades will depend heavily on environmental and energy policy set by lawmakers. Coal is a dominant and growing source of energy in the United States, and the report casts doubt on the wisdom of that reliance. Just as interest in renewable and alternative energy sources is being driven by "peak oil" concerns -- the idea that the Earth's reserves of oil are being pumped at or near the maximum rate, and that there will be a dwindling supply year-after-year into the future -- a new "peak coal" concern could drive energy policy away from coal. Currently 55% of the nation's electricity is generated by burning coal. In 2005, according to the latest data available from the Department of Energy, the United States extracted more coal than ever before. While the Senate recently rejected a coal-to-liquid fuel subsidy, coal is still seen as a critical piece of a strategy to achieve "energy independence" from foreign oil sources -- despite the heavy pollution burden that comes with coal, relative to other fossil fuels or alternative renewable energy sources. Technology under development promises to clean coal emissions significantly, in part by stripping carbon out before it is released into the atmosphere, where it causes global warming. The report recommends spending $50 million over five years on research into geologic formations that might hold carbon safely underground.