“Impediments to coal production must be overcome if the industry is going to be able to supply the massive anticipated demand for utility power generation, steelmaking, and new coal conversion products of coal to liquids and coal to gas,” said NMA senior economist Connie Holmes in her presentation this month at the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).
The NAS is currently putting together a coal research and resources study, due mid-2007. NMA urged in its testimony that the panel thoroughly study various coal safety, transportation, research and reserve base issues to help establish a roadmap detailing future energy needs and a national coal strategy to meet those needs.
Holmes said an important aspect of all research was to ensure policymakers had a clear picture of the exact recoverable coal reserves.
“It has been decades since the last comprehensive study of our reserve base was completed. It is important that the latest available information be available to policymakers, particularly in light of the projected increases in domestic coal production and use over the next 25 years as coal’s markets expand from the traditional electric generating market to that of making synthetic gas and transportation liquids,” she said.
She also cautioned that a reserve estimate should be based on the amount of coal that was legally recoverable.
“Even if reserves are technically and economically recoverable, many federal, state, and local laws and regulations significantly reduce the amount of coal that can be mined,” Holmes said.
These laws include the Mineral Leasing Act, the Federal Land Policy Management Act, the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA), the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act, and environmental laws such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
Holmes testified that current federal coal research activities were unnecessarily spread over too many agencies – namely six carrying out mine-related research. NMA suggested the Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy was ideally suited to a coordination role, given its experience and expertise on energy-related issues.
Transportation issues were also addressed in Holmes’ testimony: “There is a critical need for more research in ways to improve the efficiencies of the delivery mechanisms that bring coal from the mine to the end point of use. One example of this is rail capacity.”
Following the Sago mine disaster and other recent mine accidents in West Virginia, NMA said the panel needed to urgently review communication technology and research other safety alternatives.
NMA recently helped set up the Mine Safety Technology and Training Commission, which will conduct an in-depth review of several of these issues.
“The NAS also should look at whether there are perverse incentives at some agencies, such as the Mine Safety and Health Administration, which discourage experimentation and innovation for improvements in mine safety and health advances,” Holmes said.
Holmes also addressed the critical need in the US to train and educate new miners and mining engineers.
“The 13 mining schools in this country need additional funding to prepare the workforce that will be needed to produce the coal to meet our needs over the next 25 years,” she said.
Holmes called on the panel to study obstacles blocking the conversion of coal into liquid fuels – such as high-grade and clean-burning diesel.
“While the technology has existed for over 60 years, there are numerous impediments in terms of financing, price stability or guarantees, and a lack of incentives that must be examined and identified.”