March 10, 2008
Energy- There is No Such Thing as Clean Coal
Coal is the most abundant fossil fuel today, accounting for more than 80% of all recoverable fossil fuels. In addition, coal is relatively cheap compared to the perpetual climb of oil and natural gas prices. However, these advantages are completely superficial. The environmental costs of coal apply to every stage of converting coal to energy, making the coal fuel cycle one of the most devastating activities for the environment.
- The largest coal resources are held by the United States, followed by Russia, China, India, and Australia. U.S. recoverable coal resources of 270 billion tons are about 250 times current annual production, while China’s recoverable resources of 190 billion tons are about 80 times its current annual production.
- The United States produces more than 1 billion tons of coal each year
- More than 40 percent of U.S. coal production comes from federal public lands, primarily in the West, and this production has increased by 20 percent in the last five years. In 2005 more than 453,000 acres of federal land were under coal leases, and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) sold the rights to mine 1 billion tons of coal on this land.
-Almost 90 percent of western coal production is from surface mining, which accounts for nearly all of Wyoming’s production.
- About 65 percent of Appalachian production is from underground mining, whereas about 60 percent of Interior production is from surface mining.
- China produced more than 2.3 billion tons of coal in 2006, nearly 40 percent of the world’s total and more than the United States, Russia, and India combined.
- More than 95 percent of China’s coal comes from underground mines, often with a high sulfur and ash content. China’s coal mining industry employs more than 7.8 million people in around 25,000mines
-Coal-fired electricity generation has increased by 24% between 1990 and 2004
-In 2004, the use of coal resulted in 2.6 billion metric tons of heat trapping carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in China and 3.9 billion metric tons of CO2 in the United States, adding up to more than 20 percent of global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion.
- In China, more than half of the coal supply is used to generate electricity, with the rest used primarily for production of steel, cement, and chemicals, as well as for domestic heating and cooking.
- About half of the U.S. electricity supply is generated using coal-fired power plants.
- More than 90 percent of the U.S. coal supply is used to generate electricity in some 600 coal fired power plants scattered around the country, with the remainder used for process heat in steel manufacturing and other heavy industrial production. Coal is used for power production in coal-fired power. Texas uses more coal than any other state, followed by Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
Environmental Effects of Coal Production:
Health and Safety Risks:
- Coal mining industry about five times as hazardous as the average private workplace (fatality rate of .23 per thousand workers)
- 22 fatalities in 2005, 47 fatalities in 2006 (2,518 fatalities in 1925)
- Coal miners suffer many nonfatal injuries are are vulnerable to serious diseases (most notably black lung disease)
- China’s coal mining industry is the most dangerous in the world. Although it produced nearly 40 percent of the world’s coal in 2005, it reported 80 percent of the total deaths in coal mine accidents. With soaring demand for coal in China, mine operators often ignore safety standards in search of quick profits. Other factors include inadequate safety equipment and a lack of safety education among miners. In 2006, 4,746 coal mining deaths were reported, occurring due to coal mine floods, cave-ins, fires, and explosions, resulting in an average of 13 coal miner deaths a day
- Some scholars indicate that, including unreported deaths, coal mining in China could result in closer to 20,000 deaths a year.25 In addition, about 300,000 coal miners suffer from black lung disease in China, with 5,000 to 8,000 new cases arising each year
Destruction of Terrestrial Habitats:
- Coal mining—and particularly surface or strip mining—poses one of the most significant threats to terrestrial habitats in the United States. The Appalachian region, for example, which produces more than 35 percent of our nation’s coal, is one of the most biologically diverse forested regions in the country. But surface mining activity clearcuts trees and fragments habitat, destroying natural areas that were home to hundreds of unique species of plants, invertebrates, salamanders, mussels, and fish.
- Surface mining activities cause severe environmental damage as huge machines strip, rip apart, and scrape aside vegetation, soils, and wildlife habitat as they drastically—and permanently—reshape existing land forms and the affected area’s ecology to reach the subsurface coal. Strip mining replaces precious open space with invasive industrialization that displaces wildlife, increases soil erosion, takes away recreational opportunities, degrades the wilderness, and destroys the region’s scenic beauty. Forty-six western national parks are located within 10 miles of an identified coal basin, and these parks could be significantly damaged by future surface mining in the
- Coal mining of all types can also lead to increased sedimentation, which affects water chemistry and stream flow and negatively impacts aquatic habitat. Valley fills in the eastern United States and waste rock from strip mines in the West add sediment to streams, as do the construction and use of roads in mining complexes. A final physical impact of mining on water involves the hydrology of aquifers. MTR and valley fills remove upper drainage basins and often connect two previously separate aquifers, altering the surrounding groundwater recharge scheme.
- Chemical pollution produced by coal mining operations comes most significantly in the form of acid mine drainage (AMD). In both underground and surface mining, sulfur-bearing minerals common in coal mining areas are brought up to the surface in waste rock. This problem could be exacerbated to the extent that advanced sulfur dioxide pollution controls allow increased use of high‑sulfur coal. When these minerals come in contact with precipitation and groundwater, an acidic leachate is formed. This leachate picks up heavy metals and carries these toxins into streams or groundwater. Waters affected by AMD often exhibit increased levels of sulfate, total dissolved solids, calcium, selenium, magnesium, manganese, conductivity, acidity, sodium, and nitrate, reflecting drastic changes in stream and groundwater chemistry. The degraded water becomes less habitable, non potable, and unfit for recreational purposes
- In the eastern United States, AMD has damaged an estimated 4,000 to 11,000 miles of streams. In the West, estimates are between 5,000 and 10,000 miles of streams polluted.
- There are two main sources of air pollution during the coal production process. The first is methane emissions from the mines. Methane is a powerful heat-trapping gas and is the second most significant contributor to global warming after carbon dioxide. According to the most recent official inventory of U.S. global warming emissions, coal mining results in the release of 3 million metric tons of methane per year, which is equivalent to 68 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.
- The second significant form of air pollution from coal mining is particulate matter (PM) emissions. While methane emissions are largely from eastern underground mines, PM emissions are particularly serious at western surface mines. Mining operations in the arid, open, and frequently windy region creates a significant amount of particulate matter. These wind-driven dust emissions occur during nearly every phase of coal strip mining in the West, but the most significant sources are removal of the overburden through blasting and use of draglines, truck haulage of the overburden and mined coal, road grading, and wind erosion of reclaimed areas. The diesel trucks and equipment used in mining are also a source of PM emissions.
- Particulate matter emissions are a serious health threat that can cause significant respiratory damage as well as premature death.
- 3,700,000 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), the primary human cause of global warming--as much carbon dioxide as cutting down 161 million trees.
- 10,000 tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2), which causes acid rain that damages forests, lakes, and buildings, and forms small airborne particles that can penetrate deep into lungs.
- 500 tons of small airborne particles, which can cause chronic bronchitis, aggravated asthma, and premature death, as well as haze obstructing visibility.
- 10,200 tons of nitrogen oxide (NOx), as much as would be emitted by half a million late-model cars. NOx leads to formation of ozone (smog) which inflames the lungs, burning through lung tissue making people more susceptible to respiratory illness.
- 720 tons of carbon monoxide (CO), which causes headaches and place additional stress on people with heart disease.
- 220 tons of hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds (VOC), which form ozone.
- 70 pounds of mercury, where just 1/70th of a teaspoon deposited on a 25-acre lake can make the fish unsafe to eat.
- 225 pounds of arsenic, which will cause cancer in one out of 100 people who drink water containing 50 parts per billion.
- 114 pounds of lead, 4 pounds of cadmium, other toxic heavy metals, and trace amounts of uranium.
-One significant waste is the sludge that is produced from washing coal. There are currently more than 700 sludge impoundments strewn throughout mining regions, and this number continues to grow. These impoundment ponds pose a potential threat to the environment and human life. If an impoundment fails, the result is disastrous.
- Waste created by a typical 500-megawatt coal plant includes more than 125,000 tons of ash and 193,000 tons of sludge from the smokestack scrubber each year. Nationally, more than 75% of this waste is disposed of in unlined, unmonitored onsite landfills and surface impoundments.
- Toxic substances in the waste -- including arsenic, mercury, chromium, and cadmium -- can contaminate drinking water supplies and damage vital human organs and the nervous system. One study found that one out of every 100 children who drink groundwater contaminated with arsenic from coal power plant wastes were at risk of developing cancer.
- Once the 2.2 billion gallons of water have cycled through the coal-fired power plant, they are released back into the lake, river, or ocean. This water is hotter (by up to 20-25° F) than the water that receives it. This "thermal pollution" can decrease fertility and increase heart rates in fish. Typically, power plants also add chlorine or other toxic chemicals to their cooling water to decrease algae growth. These chemicals are also discharged back into the environment.
- Much of the heat produced from burning coal is wasted. A typical coal power plant uses only 33-35% of the coal's heat to produce electricity. The majority of the heat is released into the atmosphere or absorbed by the cooling water.
- A typical coal plant requires 40 railroad cars to supply 1.4 million tons in a year. That's 14,600 railroad cars a year.
- Railroad locomotives, which rely on diesel fuel, emit nearly 1 million tons of nitrogen oxide (NOx) and 52,000 tons of coarse and small particles in the United States. Coal dust blowing from coal trains contributes particulate matter to the air.
Carbon Capture and Disposal of CO2:
- The critical technology for coal is CO2 capture and geologic disposal. This is the only technology that will make continued coal use compatible with protection of the climate. Marginal improvements in coal plant efficiency will not deliver reductions on the scale needed to stabilize concentrations at reasonable levels.
- Coal-based CO2 capture and disposal system (CDS) have all been demonstrated at commercial scale in numerous projects around the world. But there is large potential for optimization of each element, and their integration, to bring down costs and improve efficiency. In addition, experience with large-scale injection of CO2 into geologic formations is still limited.
- The considerable economic, social, and
environmental drawbacks of coal-derived liquid
fuel preclude it from being a sound option to
move America beyond oil
- Relying on liquid coal could nearly double global warming pollution per gallon of transportation fuels, and increase the devastating effects of coal mining felt by communities and ecosystems stretching from Appalachia to the Rocky mountains.
- If the CO2 from liquid coal plants is captured instead of being released into the atmosphere, then well-to-wheels CO2 emissions would be reduced some but would still be higher than emissions from today’s crude oil system
- The U.S is addicted to coal, and our problem is that we have way too much of it. Coal means a boost in our economy but it also means the destruction of the environment.
-Enforce and strengthen the laws that already exist (Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Surface Mining Laws, etc.)
-No EPA exemptions
-Making the production and use of coal a cleaner process takes a lot. A lot of money, time, and work that should be directed toward clean, more efficient, renewable energy.
-Is Carbon Capture and Disposal really the answer? Does it even work?