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November 21, 2005

Coal To Oil

This article on the viability, environmental impact, and potential utility of Gov. Schweitzer's coal-to-oil plan is interesting stuff.  The basic argument is that we can convert the unbelievable quantities of coal beneath Montana into an oil source for about $35 a barrel, and do so without destroying the environment.  The major downside is that other countries may not deploy the technology necessary to keep the transition clean.  At any rate, ideas like this do promise to make the changeover from oil less disastrous than some have predicted: so long as we have options, we have breathing room.  In any case, interesting, encouraging stuff.

November 21, 2005 | Permalink


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Tracked on Nov 21, 2005 2:50:47 PM


We've got some options. The transition needn't be a crisis. We can turn various types of organic waste into oil with thermal depolymerization; we can use the Fischer-Tropsch process to turn coal into oil; we can grow soybean biodiesel or corn ethanol, if worst comes to worst. The only reason it needs to be a crisis is if those who would benefit from a crisis, i.e., those who would benefit from spirally oil prices, make sure that it's a crisis. Sadly, this is precisely what I expect will happen.

Posted by: Julian Elson | Nov 21, 2005 1:43:10 PM

BTW, can we rename the "Fischer-Tropsch process" the "Hans & Franz process"? Would that help or hurt its chances?

I think it depends on what your definition of "destroying the environment is".

The first problem is the release of really bad chemicals. Mostly, old coal plants and mines used to release sulfates and all kinds of other nasties. EPA regulations prevent this from happening now.

The second one is the release of CO2, the primary greenhouse gas. The NYT article handwaves over the problem, but I'm pretty sure there are still there are emissions. I just don't know if it's more or less than for conventional coal or oil.

The third is the devastation of terrain. And this happens whether you're drilling for coal or oil; the question is just whether or not you're okay with it happening in the various places we would end up digging for coal.

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Nov 21, 2005 3:58:55 PM

I don't think the terrain lost to digging for coal or drilling for oil would come even close to the vast amount of prairie that would be ripped apart to plant bio-fuel crops, at least on a scale that would significally enhance our energy supply.

Posted by: Steve Mudge | Nov 21, 2005 10:41:34 PM

Does not contribute to global warming? Obviously this is some sort of magical coal to oil process of which I'm unaware. And $35 a barrel? If that's possible why why aren't companies building conversion plants? Why isn't Australia converting its huge supplies of coal to oil and exporting it for the current oil price of $60+ per barrel making a clear $25 profit per barrel? But then again, I guess Australians could be stupid. I mean they built and oil shale extraction plant and eneded up shutting it down because it was too costly and dirty.

Posted by: Ronald Brak | Nov 23, 2005 10:31:30 PM

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