Forget Peak Oil for a minute. Welcome to Peak Coal.
The world could face a coal supply deficit of 33 million to 44 million short tons (30-40 metric tons, or tonnes) this year, according to industry officials quoted in Lloyd's List.
That's as much coal as Illinois (33 million short tons) or Texas (45 million short tons) produced in all of 2006, according to Energy Information Administration statistics.
The looming shortage, according to Lloyd's List has India looking to invest in new mines in Southern Africa, and both China and Indonesia using up export supplies to feed new domestic coal-fired power plants.
That has driven up demand for U.S. coal (and coal the world over), which is reflected in sharply higher prices per ton of coal since last fall.
The demand spike has three obvious implications for the environment. One, obviously, is that the more coal the world burns the more the carbon-heavy fuel will spew greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, resulting in a faster the rate of global warming. Another is that more demand for coal will mean more profit motive for destructive mining practices like mountaintop removal in the Appalachians. The other, though, is that higher coal prices could make the economics of renewable energy more competitive. Coal has been the go-to energy source, despite it being about the dirtiest available, because it is cheap. Plans to build new coal-fired power plants in the U.S. have already run into snags, as investors and regulators have halted projects out of concerns over cost and pollution. The price of coal could be an increasingly important factor in that equation.
Mountaintop removal video:
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