Coal-to-liquid fuels a big step backward in energy policy

To the editor:

In response to your recent editorial (“Liquefied coal? Not so far-fetched,” Aug. 29 Review-Journal), which touted the controversial and counterproductive practice of creating gasoline, diesel or other fuel from liquefied coal, and also singled out the Natural Resources Defense Council:

The truth is that most coal-to-liquid-fuel plants emit roughly double the amount of global warming pollution for every gallon of transportation fuel that is produced and used. The total emissions rate for oil and gas fuels is about 27 pounds of carbon dioxide per gallon, counting both production and use, while the estimated total emissions from coal-derived fuel is more like 50 pounds of carbon dioxide per gallon — nearly twice as much.

Even if, as your editorial suggests, the carbon dioxide from coal-to-liquid plants were somehow stopped from entering the atmosphere, coal liquids would still pollute more than current fuel sources do. The “well-to-wheels” CO2 emissions would be reduced somewhat but still end up being about 8 percent higher than emissions from today’s crude oil production facilities.

What’s more, a recent study by the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology showed that the state is ill-suited for storing CO2 underground. That means any plant developer would have to build a pipeline to ship the gas out of state. The current cost of such a pipeline is $1 million per mile. What’s more, the coal would have to be shipped in from out of state (Wyoming or Montana), further adding to the cost. No reasonable investor would find value in that equation.

With or without CO2 capture, coal-to-liquid fuel is a step backward — not forward — in our nation’s pioneering of the next generation of cleaner fuels that will free us from reliance on dirty, carbon-based fuels, whether foreign or domestic in origin.

This nation needs new energy solutions that take us in the right direction, not those that drag us even farther down the path that has created the current crisis in energy supplies and prices. By investing in a combination of enhanced energy efficiency and renewable fuels, we can reduce our oil consumption more quickly, more cleanly, and in larger amounts than we could with coal-derived liquids.

And that can be done without hammering investors and ratepayers. Since policies that establish strict limits on carbon dioxide are both necessary and inevitable (both presidential candidates favor them), it would be the height of folly to invest in coal-to-liquid fuels or any other technology that actually increases our dependency on carbon fuels.

In the face of the inevitable regulation of carbon, investment in coal-to-liquids production would be left stranded, with consumers holding the bag.

It’s time for new fuel solutions that embrace the can-do spirit of America. The truth is that we can pursue an energy path that enhances our security, our economy and our environment. That path does not include the backward technology of coal-to-liquid fuel.

Theo Spencer

NEW YORK

THE WRITER IS SENIOR ADVOCATE FOR THE NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL.

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