“Neglect About Peak Oil – We Haven’t Even Reached Peak Coal But” – Watts Up With That?

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

Mainstream media is waking up that despite billions invested in renewable energy, oil and coal use are surging.

Forget About Peak Oil – We Haven’t Even Reached Peak Coal Yet

David Blackmon
Senior Contributor Energy
Aug 2, 2021,09:18am EDT

Despite all the heavy dissemination of narratives and talking points about a “climate emergency” and the “energy transition” during 2021, the ongoing economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic proves that the world still heavily relies on fossil fuels to provide its constantly growing energy needs. Indeed, as the pushers of Peak Oil demand theory try in vain to revive their own always-wrong narrative, it now appears that the world has yet to even meet the peak of demand for the least environmentally friendly fuel of all, coal.

This is especially true in China, India and much of Asia, where thousands of coal-fired power plants have seen record usage levels in the face of a major heat wave this summer. Bloomberg reported last week that China’s enormous demand for coal this summer has caused commodity prices to spike to the highest level seen in 2 months, briefly climbing above 900 yuan/ton (roughly $139.31 at current exchange rates) on Friday. 

The global futures price for coal set a new record high in May as supplies ran low. Australian coal – China’s main international supplier – hit $150 per ton in July, the highest level seen since 2008. The demand is so high in China that it has even led to implementation of electricity rationing in some parts of the country as supplies run short.

This spike in coal demand and usage is far from limited to Asia. The Wall Street Journal reported in early July that coal-fired power usage was also spiking in European countries like Germany and France, both of which spent years loudly boasting of their plans to eliminate coal from their energy profiles. 

In the meantime, the United States has been able to cut its own carbon emissions to levels not achieved since the early 1990s mainly by replacing retiring coal-fired power plants with power provided by natural gas. Thanks to the Shale revolution, which is enabled by hydraulic fracturing – “fracking” – the U.S. possesses such enormously abundant supplies of natural gas that it has been able to develop a robust business sector for the export of liquefied natural gas (LNG). The country now ranks among the three top exporters of LNG, along with Qatar and Australia. 

Read more: https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidblackmon/2021/08/02/forget-about-peak-oilwe-havent-even-reached-peak-coal-yet/

Just to add to the fun, talking about peak oil and peak coal as if they are different targets is fundamentally wrong.

As the NAZIs proved in WW2, when they lost access to good oil fields, you can run an economy on coal liquefaction technologies, well proven technologies for converting coal into oil.

The only holdup is liquefied coal is more expensive than conventional oil, it doesn’t become economical until oil prices exceed $100 ($145 / barrel according to one estimate I saw). Though China runs a significant volume of coal liquefaction plants, those plants are likely more for high value added chemical synthesis than fuel oil.

The threat of cheaper coal liquefaction technologies is likely the real reason OPEC tries to keep oil prices low. OPEC are terrified of “demand destruction”, the possibility that high oil prices will stimulate a switchover to EVs, or more investment in developing non-OPEC oil resources, but they are also concerned it will stimulate research into cutting the cost of coal liquefaction. A coal liquefaction research breakthrough could permanently cap OPEC’s conventional oil at an uncomfortably low price.

So the reality is, there is zero chance we shall see peak oil supply in our lifetime, or even our grandchildren’s lifetime, not only because there are vast reserves of oil, but because there are centuries worth of coal reserves just sitting in the ground waiting to be mined. We shall all have a plentiful supply of oil at an affordable price, for as long as we need it.

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