Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Of temperature and coal supply predictions

It seems that while in my own professional life I had to change my opinion on several occasions, as new facts and experimental results showed that some our ideas were incorrect, that a willingness to change future projections of future energy supplies and their impact on the climate is less prevalent among the most quoted sources of opinion on these topics, even as the facts change over time.

This, of course, has some relevance to the many discussions that one might read on climate change, where model predictions usually assume that the same mix of fossil fuels will exist well beyond the year 2100, despite the future scenarios put forward increasingly by major oil companies that the mix will change and the role of oil and coal will diminish in the future. Part of this, in the case of the climate science modelers is perhaps because they have enough problems dealing with concerns over clouds and aerosols, without needing the additional needs to correct future prognostications for changes in the fuel mix that produces the greenhouse gasses of concern.

In this regard I was struck, in reading the testimony of witnesses at the Workshop on the American Physical Society Climate Change Statement Review about their inflexibility in changing future projections despite current data availability.

For example in the discussion following Dr. Santer’s presentation (page 255 line 18 and thereafter) it is noted that:
DR. KOONIN: But here, evidently IPCC needs to scale in order to match the observations; second, that many of the scaling factors are not consistent with one; they are smaller than one. The tightest ones are smaller than one. And there is a fair bit of variability in them. . . . But then I go to the centennial projections in chapter 12 and it says that, "The likely ranges do not take into account these factors because the influence of these factors on the long-term projections cannot be quantified." So, to me, it looks like they set a calibration against the historical data and then they wiped out that calibration in doing the centennial projections resulting in probably a 25, 30 percent over-prediction of the 2100 warmings. 1. . . . . . At least I conclude now from what I understand that the centennial scale projections temperatures are probably high? . . . By 30 percent, at least for RCP8.5 which is dominated greenhouse gases?
To which he did not get a responsive answer from those espousing the greater effects of greenhouse gases on the environment.

There is much in the discussion that is interesting, including the comment that if the hiatus continues for another 3 years then the predictive models of future temperature growth will have to be revisited, but then a time limit has been set before and then ignored after it passed.

It is, unfortunately, this illustrated inflexibility in the scientific mind that makes it difficult to predict the true likelihood of significant temperature increase within the next few decades, since the need for scaling of the greenhouse effect (perhaps down to 70% or lower) and the phasing out of fossil fuel use (in part because we are going to run out of oil) are both ignored by those whose opinions are most quoted in the press and by the government.

On the other hand there are those who predict that we will run out of coal much sooner than the industry (or myself) believes and predicts. The latest perhaps of these is the report by Leslie Glustrom “Warning: Faulty Reporting of US Coal Reserves,” for Clean Energy Action. The report is summarized as:
The belief that the US has a “200 year” supply of coal is based on the faulty reporting by the EIA of US coal deposits as “reserves.” Most US coal is buried too deeply to be mined at a profit and should not be categorized as reserves, but rather as “resources.” All decision makers should begin taking a hard look at coal cost and supply issues considering both geology and finance and begin thinking about scenarios that require moving the US beyond coal in significantly less than 20 years. Since coal is non-renewable, analyses should be based on recent trends—not those of the 20th century, which are not likely to be repeated.
This is actually an interesting point of view, since in my opinion much of the coal around the world is not even considered as a resource at the present time, let alone the reserve that it ultimately likely to become prior to use to solve the energy needs of countries that can no longer afford the higher prices of alternate fuels.

One of the problems that I have with the report is the lack of understanding of how incredibly simple and inexpensive it is to mine the surface coals of Wyoming and Montana. In essence large shovels just dig the coal out of the ground, put in trucks, transfer that to rail cars, and off it goes. It is hard to beat the simplicity and low cost of this operation. (Yes there are related costs for blasting and reclamation among others but it nevertheless remains cheap).

The assumption seems to be made that when coal seams get deeper, then the costs will rise rapidly. For the record I should point out that in the summer of 1963 I worked in the Snowdown Colliery of the Kent coal field mining a seam of about 6 ft thick IIRC at a depth of 3,000 ft. That coal seam stretched for miles, and was not the only coal within the stratigraphic column. It became too expensive to mine that, and the coal at other mines I worked in below 1,000 ft (and at seam heights down to one foot eight inches) because oil and gas in the North Sea became much more readily available at a lower price. Prior to their arrival the coal was a viable fuel. Thus after natural gas and oil begin to deplete the conditions will revert to those prior to the development of the North Sea fields. And, in the interim, there has been significant advance in the technologies that can be applied to extract the coal at lower cost – particularly with the increases in automation and remote control that are increasingly being used underground.

But I shall discuss this in more detail in a following post on the topic.


  1. It should be noted that the time scale needed for resource utilization is far longer than a century or so. The extremely slow processes which will reduce atmospheric carbon make the timing of the release a lot less relevant when moved one or two centuries.

  2. Not wishing to be too argumentative, but if the oil supply peak occurs within this decade, then the atmospheric carbon numbers are going to change substantially in the rest of the century as alternate fuels take over.

  3. I like very much your way of presentation. I am so much interested to join your network. Thanks for sharing this post. Keep blogging.

    house painting Santa Monica

  4. Great post I must say. Simple but yet entertaining and engaging... Keep up the good work.

    professional painting Burbank

  5. Nice experience shared. Its not less than an interview. Great way of posting such good and informative stuff.

    asset based financing

  6. Great post, I really like the picture. The Van reminds me of my college roadtrip.

    cash flow lenders

  7. I really appreciate the kind of topics you post here. Thanks for sharing information that is actually helpful. Good day!

    live casino games china

  8. A great blog and very helpfull post. I really like it.

    San Jose Limousine Service