The Real Cost of Coal Exports and Fossil Fuels

With major fossil fuel projects ramping up across the globe, fossil fuel interests are ignoring the catastrophic costs that carbon pollution causes (and will cause) around the world. Meanwhile, critics of clean energy technologies continue to spread disinformation to discredit the emerging sector and promote fossil fuels as the only viable source of energy.

Coal exports are on the rise. U.S. coal exports exceeded the Department of Energy’s projections by 30% in 2012 as reported by Nate Aden, a PhD student from the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California, Berkeley. Coal demand is being driven in part by economic growth in China and other developing countries, but these developing countries are not alone. The World Resources Institute found that 1,100 coal-fired power plants are being proposed around the world. And, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, countries in Europe were the destination for 45% of U.S. coal exports in 2012.

Australia and Indonesia also have major coal export projects underway. According to the Guardian’s Graham Readfearn, Australia is already the world’s largest exporter of coal, sending twice as much CO2 abroad than it emits at home.

Readfearn writes that exports of carbon fuels will come back to bite Australia in the form of climate disruption. In the past two months, Australia has been ravaged by hundreds of wildfires caused by the “biggest and longest heat wave on record in January.” This type of extreme weather is exactly what 97% of climate scientists have been warning our leaders for over two decades. The New Scientist cited Jon Nott who researches extreme weather events at James Cook University (in Australia) saying, “The frequency of more intense events is going to increase” as a hotter world becomes the new reality.

The Washington Post reported, “If we want to avoid severe global warming, we’ll have to stay within a strict carbon budget in the decades ahead…” A new report by Greenpeace details the 14 biggest threats to the “climate stabilization budget” with the top three being China’s coal reserves in the western provinces, Arctic oil drilling and Australian coal exports. Coal exports account for three of the 14 fossil fuel projects under development that would “blow past [our strict carbon] budget.”

So, with these identifiable threats to stabilizing the earth’s climate, why aren’t we rapidly decommissioning fossil fuel projects around the world?

One answer lies in the powerful and fossil fuel-funded opposition to clean energy solutions to climate change.

Clean energy opponents argue that clean energy technology is “too expensive” while ignoring the much larger subsidies and externality costs of fossil fuels (for more on these advocacy groups see our report, “Fossil Fuel Front Groups on the Front Page”).

While the argument about clean energy may have been true a decade ago, rapidly falling prices of wind, solar and other clean technologies are rendering that argument obsolete. In January, the International Renewable Energy Agency released a report (PDF) showing that “the rapid growth in the deployment of solar and wind is driving a convergence in electricity generation costs for renewable power generation technologies at low levels.” The report goes on to say that the rapid cost reductions of installed renewable energy technology mean that data one or two years old can significantly overestimate the cost of electricity from renewable energy technology. In other words, cost reductions are making clean energy competitive with fossil fuels around the world.

Moreover, the costs for fossil fuels (including fuels coming from the 14 projects above) do not account for the potential damage their emissions will cause as we drift towards climate disaster. These fossil fuel pollution externalities should be factored into the cost of business. After factoring in the cost of pollution, maybe digging up coal and shipping it across the globe won’t look like such a great investment.

For future generations, let’s hope the real cost of fossil fuels is factored into our calculations soon.

Breaking from DeSmogBlog

DeSmogBlog today released a comprehensive report on the dangers posed by hydraulic fracturing to public drinking water, land and our health. Based on the findings of the report and recent events, DeSmogBlog is calling for a national moratorium on fracking until further independent research demonstrates that the process does not contaminate drinking water, pollute land or impact the global climate.

See DeSmogBlog’s post below and study here.

Fracking the Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens Our Water, Health and Climate – Report

The United States is at the center of a high profile controversy over the threats posed by unconventional gas drilling, particularly surrounding the industry’s hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and horizontal drilling techniques. Amidst the dirty energy industry’s rush to drill the last of America’s dwindling fossil fuel reserves, a growing number of independent scientists, politicians, environmental organizations and impacted citizens are urging the nation’s lawmakers to adopt a more cautious and informed approach to the fracked gas boom.The oil and gas industry, however, is fighting back against calls for caution, suggesting that it has everything under control – much like it did prior to BP’s offshore drilling disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

In a new report released today, “Fracking the Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens Water, Health, and Climate,” DeSmogBlog details the concerns that scientists, cancer specialists, ecologists, investigative journalists and others have raised about the unconventional gas boom. Featuring original interviews and unpublicized reports, “Fracking The Future” delves into many of the key issues in the unconventional gas debate.

DeSmogBlog is calling for a nationwide moratorium on fracking, citing the fact that the potential impacts on water, health, and climate appear greater than previously understood. A moratorium is necessary to protect the public while fracking is studied much more thoroughly in order to determine if the risks of this practice outweigh the benefits.

Additionally, since state regulators have failed to safeguard the public from the ill effects of gas fracking, federal health and safety officials must be empowered to hold the gas industry accountable for damage to public health, drinking water and the environment.

The report traces the massive industry lobbying efforts to confuse the public and stifle long-overdue federal oversight of the unconventional gas drilling bonanza. We review the sordid history of industry favoritism by the Bush administration, typified by the infamous Halliburton Loophole, which created a recipe for recklessness that has led to air and water contamination and drilling-related accidents.  But the prioritization of industry greed above public health and safety didn’t start there.

Since the Reagan era, those charged with protecting health and the environment have instead worked with the gas industry to minimize public awareness of its practices, and to hide the early warning signs regarding the inherent dangers of drilling deeper into the Earth for fossil fuels. State agencies have been pressured to accommodate the industry’s increasingly dangerous drilling techniques, and have largely enabled the poor, unmonitored practices common in the industry today.

The gas industry is investing millions of dollars each year to restrict oversight to the state level and thwart all federal involvement. The number of gas industry lobbyists has increased seven-fold in recent years, exhibiting the dangerous political sway the dirty energy industry exercises in Washington and at the local level across the nation.

Industry front groups like Energy in Depth (EID) play a pivotal role in the dissemination of misinformation and efforts to attack and silence those who attempt to call polluters to account.

Despite EID’s claims to represent small, independent “mom and pop” gas producers, internal industry documents uncovered by DeSmogBlog reveal that the group was created with seed funding from Big Oil multinationals. When communicating with its industry friends, EID continues to repeatedly tout the funding it receives from BP, Halliburton, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and other oil giants that certainly don’t fit the “mom and pop shop” characterization.

With international attention focused on the U.S. experience with unconventional gas, “Fracking the Future” urges a cautious approach and much greater industry transparency.  The public deserves to know the true costs of fracked unconventional gas before allowing the oil and gas industry to carry on with its pursuit of this fossil fuel.