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U.S. Coal Peak Production: Point and counterpoint

A timely debate on "United States Coal Peak Production" will enliven the October annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Portland, Oregon this week.

Highly regarded experts, Dr. David B. Rutledge of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and Dr. Frank Clemente of Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) will be keynote speakers presenting opposing views. A third invited expert speaker, Bob Milici, from the U.S. Geological Survey, will offer perspectives from the government’s coal resource assessment.

Coal peak production has been a seriously debated topic for the past few years outside the coal-science community. "We hope to spur science-based discussions by membership of the coal geology and geology and health communities," said session co-chair Romeo Flores. "Regardless of the magnitude of coal peak production, there will be a commensurate effect with respect to the overall environmental impact on CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants and its relation to global climate change, health, and economic growth."

Dr. Rutledge's impact on the subject of coal peak production began with a critical assessment of the world's coal reserves by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which he estimated to be much lower than previous calculations. His newly created model, using principles from M. King Hubbert's concept of oil peak production, projects ultimate coal production to 665 billion metric tons. This amounts to 59 percent of the corresponding number of reserves, which the World Energy Council estimated as 847 billion metric tons of coal as of year-end 2005. Thus, if the lesser estimate of world coal reserves is indeed the most reliable, then the resulting lesser amounts of CO2 ultimately emitted will tend to mitigate future impacts on global climate change. The National Research Council's Committee on Coal Research, Technology, and Resource Assessments agrees with many of Dr. Rutledge's criticisms but maintains positive coal reserves scenario. The highlight of these criticisms was presented at the 2008 American Geophysical Union Fall meeting in which he suggested that governments have overestimated coal reserves. Find more information at

Dr. Clemente, who will present the opposite views, is co-author of the National Coal Council report, The Urgency of Sustainable Coal for the Department of Energy. The pressing need for U.S electricity will spur more coal-based generation with the Energy Information Administration's (EIA's) demand projection of about 5,000 billion-kilowatt hours by 2030. In 2007 the Council was tasked by the Secretary of DOE to conduct additional studies to "focus on several technological options to increase coal use consistent with the environmental goals of the country." A report issued in 2008 refined findings and recommendations from earlier reports regarding: (1) carbon management, (2) legal and regulatory issues, (3) hybrid electric vehicles, (4) in-situ coal gasification, and (5) converting coal to liquid and substitute natural gas. The urgency for sustainable coal is driven by costs; coal will generate 50 percent of our electricity at a cost of less than one-fourth of natural gas. Clemente maintains that, "Abundant coal will continue to play a cornerstone role in the world's energy supply."

Frontiers in Coal Science: From Basic Research to Applied Technology
Oregon Convention Center, Room B114/115
Projections for Ultimate Coal Production from Production Histories
Start time 1:35 p.m.
View Rutledge abstract at
U.S. Coal Production
Start time 1:55 p.m.
View Clemente abstract at
Estimation of U.S. peak coal production
Start time 2:15 p.m., discussion 2:30-2:45 p.m.
View Milici abstract at
For on-site assistance during the 2009 Annual Meeting, 18-21 October, contact Christa Stratton in the Newsroom (7:30 a.m.-6:00 p.m. PDT), Oregon Convention Center, Room D133, +1-503-963-5708.
After the meeting, contact:
Romeo M. Flores, session co-chair
U.S. Geological Survey
Box 25046 MS 939
Denver Federal Center
Denver, CO 80225, USA
David B. Rutledge
Engineering and Applied Science
California Institute of Technology
Pasadena, CA 91125, USA
Frank A. Clemente
Sociology, Penn State University
201 Oswald
University Park, PA 16803, USA Robert C. Milici
U.S. Geological Survey
956 National Center
Reston, VA 20192, USA

Christa Stratton | EurekAlert!
Further information:

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