Winds of Change Newsletter, September 2007 See sidebar for table of contents
Coal-to-Liquid is Nuts - Here Are Just A Few Reasons Why
Coal-to-liquids (CTL) is a technology that converts dry coal into a liquid fuel that could be used in place of diesel and jet fuels. The process proposed for use in the US would first use heat and pressure to gasify the coal, then cool the gas to form a liquid a highly energy-intensive process. Just a few facts:
DCTL produces nearly TWICE as much carbon dioxide as petroleum. As the League of Conservation Voters put it, CTL "turns a compact car into an SUV from a global warming perspective."
DAround 5 barrels of our precious fresh water resources are needed to produce each barrel of fuel.
DOne ton of coal (2,000 pounds) produces only 2 barrels of fuel (84 gallons). It would take about three 20-ton coal trucks to carry the same number of barrels of fuel as a single oil tanker.
NSharp increases in demand for coal will encourage mining companies to cut even more corners to produce coal quickly and cheaply meaning even less regard for the safety of workers, communities and the environment.
DCTL refineries use loads of energy. Proponents of CTL gloss over this fact and dont have hard figures on the energy conversion rate: That is, how much energy goes into creating CTL versus how much energy is yielded.
NSasolburg, South Africa, has been the center of CTL production for years and is cited by supporters as an example of the commercial viability of the fuel. It also demonstrates the great costs borne by local citizens.
NAir samples taken in Sasolburg showed very high levels of benzene, which can lean to anemia and leukemia, and hydrogen sulfide, which is linked to respiratory problems; statistics indicate high rates of anemia, asthma and other respiratory problems in the communities near Sasolburg.
Local Impacts Mingo County, WV
The Mingo County Redevelopment Authority and Rentech, a Colorado based corporation, are planning a coal-to-liquid plant for Mingo County.
MRentechs senior Vice President Richard Sheppard calls the project an "exciting opportunity for devastated coalfield communities." Has he thought about why they are devastated?
MOutput is to be 20,000 barrels per day, with a start-up cost of $2 billion-3 billion dollars.
MMuch of that cost is likely to be borne by citizens, both through direct subsidization and through tax benefits given to the corporation. Citizens, of course, would also bear the environmental costs of increased mining and the accompanying pollution and health problems.
M60 percent of citizens in Mingo County rely solely on well water in their homes. The CTL supporters do not address the issues of the waste that the plant will produce or the health impacts to the community.
The Solutions Alternatives
CBurning the same amount of coal to produce electricity to power plug-in hybrids would replace twice as much oil without generating nearly as much greenhouse gas. But to end mountaintop removal, we must reduce our use of coal.
CFortunately, plug-in hybrids could use truly renewable resources, including wind, solar, and hydroelectric power. Fuel cell vehicles may be marketable by 2010.
CPolicies that promote public transportation, energy efficiency and conservation will help reduce our energy usage.
BWrite a letter to the editor.
BWrite to your state and federal representatives and tell them how you think your tax dollars should be spent. As a group of national environmental organizations put it, "Every dollar invested in coal-to-liquids is a dollar unavailable for investment in efficient vehicles, improved transportation systems, smart growth and sustainably-made renewable fuels."
BGet organized! Talk to your friends and neighbors about your concerns and about what you envision for your community.
BJoin the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition to work for justice in the coalfields and promote better policies for our future.