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Earth Power Hardware

As US Cleans Its Energy Mix, It Ships Coal Problems Overseas 275

Posted by samzenpus
from the not-my-problem dept.
Hugh Pickens writes writes "Thomas K. Grose reports that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that greenhouse gas emissions in the US have fallen 8 percent from their 2007 peak to 6,703 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent, due largely to the drop in coal-fired electricity which in 2012 generated 37.4 percent of US electricity, down from 50 percent in 2005. But don't celebrate just yet. A major side effect of that cleaner air in the US has been the further darkening of skies over Europe and Asia as US coal producers have been shipping the most carbon-intensive fuel to energy-hungry markets overseas. US coal exports to China were on track to double last year and demand for US metallurgical coal, the high-heat content coking coal that is used for steelmaking, is so great in Asia that shipments make a round-the-world journey from Appalachia as they are sent by train to the port of Baltimore, where they steam to sea through the Chesapeake Bay, then south across the Atlantic Ocean and around Africa's Cape of Good Hope to reach Asian ports. The Tyndall Center study estimates that the burning of all that exported coal could erase fully half the gains the United States has made in reducing carbon emissions and if the trend continues, the dramatic changes in energy use in the United States — in particular, the switch from coal to newly abundant natural gas for generating electricity — will have only a modest impact on global warming, observers warn. 'Without a meaningful cap on global carbon emissions, the exploitation of shale gas reserves is likely to increase total emissions,' write Dr John Broderick and Prof Kevin Anderson. 'For this not to be the case, consumption of displaced fuels must be reduced globally and remain suppressed indefinitely; in effect displaced coal must stay in the ground (PDF).'"
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As US Cleans Its Energy Mix, It Ships Coal Problems Overseas

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  • Trade Embargos (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SirDrinksAlot (226001) on Monday March 18, 2013 @09:03AM (#43202267) Journal

    US: Can I get some sweet sweet rare earth metals over here?
    China: No you cant have our natural resources.
    China: Give us your sweet sweet COAL!!!!!!!
    US: Here ya go!

    Open markets are amusing. They'll deal with anyone including the ones who won't share their toys.

    And "all that exported coal could erase fully half the gains" Sex panther, 60% of the time it works EVERY time.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 18, 2013 @09:21AM (#43202405)

    The US drop is because of the drop in Nat Gas prices, not wind turbines or Solar, etc.

    Both Germany and Denmark have installed many times the $ investment per capita in 'green' energy that the US has done, to no effect. In fact Germany is increasing coal consumption and moving to coal based electricity. In short the green energy revolution has failed, where a simple price change on gas has worked.

    Pollution is caused by the burners, not the diggers. You can bet that US coal is extracted in a safer, cleaner way than almost all other coal on the planet. If coal is to be burned, then US coal is the best way to do it.

  • by Rob the Bold (788862) on Monday March 18, 2013 @09:37AM (#43202463)

    Obama, Defender of Union Jobs (except miners, arguably the only job that still requires a union).

    "Bankrupted" by huge demand for exports? Plenty of businesses would be delighted to be bankrupted that way.

    Also, US reduction in coal burning has a lot more to due with the cost and supply of natural gas, improved efficiency of new gas generation plants, and their better responsiveness to rapid demand changes vs. coal-fired generation, rather than the reduction of carbon emissions per unit of energy. US utilities do sell their carbon credits, but they'd be increasing natural gas use on its own benefits to them.

  • by khallow (566160) on Monday March 18, 2013 @09:49AM (#43202541)

    There will need to be a real global treaty on GHG emissions under which the US will emit less per capita, China somewhat more per capita, and carbon content of trade will need to be factored in.

    Well, let's see first if that "need" will exist in a few centuries or not. I'll just quote this bit from the abstract [tyndall.ac.uk] of the article that spurred this slashdot article:

    There has been a substantial increase in coal exports from the US over this time period (2008-2011) and globally, coal consumption has continued to rise. As we discussed in our previous report (Broderick et al. 2011), without a meaningful cap on global carbon emissions, the exploitation of shale gas reserves is likely to increase total emissions. For this not to be the case, consumption of displaced fuels must be reduced globally and remain suppressed indefinitely; in effect displaced coal must stay in the ground. The availability of shale gas does not guarantee this. Likewise, new renewable generating capacity may cause displacement without guaranteeing that coal is not burned, but it does not directly release carbon dioxide emissions through generation.

    Note that natural gas displaced coal consumption in the US (and hence, generate a modest drop in global emissions though overwhelmed by demand for coal in the developing world), but the writer chooses to cast that as "The availability of shale gas doesn't guarantee this." I wager there aren't much in the way of "guarantees" in climatology. The abstract also asserts without proof that a 2C increase in global mean temperature is "dangerous".

    Scientists shouldn't be propagandists.

  • by jythie (914043) on Monday March 18, 2013 @09:51AM (#43202557)
    That was generally Europe. The US has always been a net exporter of many raw materials. Compared to other 1st world nations we have a huge amount of land and the (relatively untapped) resources that came with that.
  • Energy exports (Score:4, Interesting)

    by roman_mir (125474) on Monday March 18, 2013 @09:58AM (#43202595) Homepage Journal

    USA is exporting energy sources now, so it's exporting oil (refined, gasoline even), coal. While overall production of energy resources in USA is up and the demand is probably lowest in at least a decade because of the dying economy, the prices are also up and while this may seem as a paradox, it's not. It's inflation. Here is what is going to happen if China lets its currency float: renminbi will rise in USD terms and for the Chinese producers and consumers the prices for raw materials, energy and food will drop in their currency and in dollar terms they will rise. So for Americans (and Europeans) it will be increasingly more expensive to buy energy and food and but these resources will be cheaper and cheaper for the Chinese to acquire in the global market.

    By the way that's the reason that I was always saying that the Japanese should not devalue their currency, but especially after the tsunami hit and their nuclear power plants were shut down - this only hurts the Japanese as they have to pay higher prices for energy and materials in real terms.

    But don't become too excited about the USA having 'shifted its pollution elsewhere', here is the eventuality that is not understood in this by the majority: there is no difference between a pre-industrial economy and a post-industrial one. This concerns everything, from education levels to types of energy used. USA will be exporting high value energy sources and will be using much more polluting energy sources eventually if it doesn't turn around and let the markets work rather than thinking that the government will fix the economic problems that the government has created with all the taxes, regulations, money printing.

    Basically this is a temporary effect that the pollution has gone somewhere else, because the production has gone there as well. But as the production goes, so does energy use but also so does value of the money (especially if you keep printing it).

    The pollution will return in huge volumes to USA as it will have to re-industrialise, but now it will have to start from nothing again, there is no manufacturing. So there are no modern efficient factories, so much cheaper, less efficient means will be used for everything, from manufacturing to heating your houses and food.

    The pollution will come back once the inflation comes out and kills the bonds and the dollar. For now the Americans should be happy that the current European problems are on the front pages of all the news stories. Those problems are immediate, but they are nowhere as big as the American story.

  • by theVarangian (1948970) on Monday March 18, 2013 @10:08AM (#43202679)

    Everything I've seen says that natural gas is two to three times cleaner than coal. That's not "marginally" cleaner; it's a significant improvement, and it is clearly better for the environment than sticking with coal.

    Does that assessment include environmental damage caused by gas extraction with hydraulic fracturing?

    And the US isn't forcing Asian countries to buy coal. They need energy -- China's economy is growing by 10% every year. They've determined that coal is the best choice for now, and this is somehow the US's fault? I'm not quite sure what you're calling bullshit about. Not everything the US does is necessarily bad.

    Calling bullshit about it being an improvement to switch to natural gas, extracted by hydraulic fracturing then turning around and selling coal to China and going on about how you are doing wonders for the environment. If the US was serious about this they'd close down the coal mines. I refer you to TFA (And keep in mind that his primary research question was: Has US Shale Gas Reduced CO2 Emissions?

    There has been a substantial increase in coal exports from the US over this time period (2008-2011) and globally, coal consumption has continued to rise. As we discussed in our previous report (Broderick et al. 2011), without a meaningful cap on global carbon emissions, the exploitation of shale gas reserves is likely to increase total emissions. For this not to be the case, consumption of displaced fuels must be reduced globally and remain suppressed indefinitely; in effect displaced coal must stay in the ground.

  • Re:NIMBY... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jeremy Erwin (2054) on Monday March 18, 2013 @10:27AM (#43202853) Journal

    You really need to start reading What if? [xkcd.com].

    Swimming to the bottom, touching your elbows to a fresh fuel canister, and immediately swimming back up would probably be enough to kill you.
    Yet outside the outer boundary, you could swim around as long as you wanted—the dose from the core would be less than the normal background dose you get walking around. In fact, as long as you were underwater, you would be shielded from most of that normal background dose. You may actually receive a lower dose of radiation treading water in a spent fuel pool than walking around on the street.

  • Re:NIMBY... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 18, 2013 @10:57AM (#43203075)

    How do you know that the higher incidence of thyroid cancer is not merely due to more people getting tested for thyroid cancer as a result of concern for radiation exposure? Hint - it actually is. Thyroid cancer rates among Pripyat evacuees is higher than other Ukrainian populations without access to high level medicine but is similar to those of US and Western Europe.

  • Re:NIMBY... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SpaceMonkies (2868125) on Monday March 18, 2013 @10:59AM (#43203093)
    The US drop is because of the drop in Nat Gas prices, not wind turbines or Solar, etc. Both Germany and Denmark have installed many times the $ investment per capita in 'green' energy that the US has done, to no effect. In fact Germany is increasing coal consumption and moving to coal based electricity. In short the green energy revolution has failed, where a simple price change on gas has worked. Pollution is caused by the burners, not the diggers. You can bet that US coal is extracted in a safer, cleaner way than almost all other coal on the planet. If coal is to be burned, then US coal is the best way to do it.
  • Re:NIMBY... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by delt0r (999393) on Monday March 18, 2013 @11:13AM (#43203229)
    Chernobyl again. Really. TMI is a better example. If i was to design a plant that would be as close as possible to being a massive dirty bomb that generated electricity,it would still be safer than Chernobyl. It didn't/doesn't even have a containment building. Something that everything else (even other Russian designs) have.

    Chernobyl is an example of just how much the former USSR didn't care for anyone or anything in the name of the cold war. That design was about getting the plutonium out fast and nothing else.

    A better example of a worse case for most other designs is Fukushima. Bad. Yes. Very bad in fact. But much more localized than Chernobyl. However it did demonstrate that you just can't trust profit motive at any level, or the collective lack of responsibly felt by individuals in a corporation.

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