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3 Trillion Tons of Coal

Written by Luke Burgess
Posted March 13, 2006

Dear Wealth Daily Reader,

If it hasn't happened already (like Kenneth Deffeyes believes), worldwide oil and natural gas production will soon peak.

This peak, combined with dwindling supplies and demand increasing daily, will cause to soon energy prices skyrocket.

As a result energy experts worldwide believe that coal will soon become an extremely important piece in the global energy chessboard.

It's been common knowledge for quite sometime that worldwide proven and recoverable coal reserves are massive. At 900 billion tons of proven and recoverable coal, worldwide reserves give us about 200 years of production at current rates.

Now 900 billion tons of coal is a colossal resource. However, it's recently been discovered that one country that can claim a coal resource over three times higher than the current worldwide proven and recoverable reserves.

In fact, this country's offshore coal reserves were recently estimated at 3 trillion tons!

3 Trillion Tons of Coal

It's been no secret. Geologists have known for a long time that there are vast amounts of coal off the coast of Norway in the North Sea. Nonetheless, they never dreamed that this coal resource could have been so enormous.

An energy adviser working for Statoil (NSYE:STO), Olav Kårstad, along with a team of students from Norwegian University of Science and Technology, analyzed data from 600 wells drilled on the Norwegian Shelf of the North Sea.

Together the team calculated that there are 3,000 billion tons of coal off the Norwegian coast!

This 3 trillion tons of coal is 3.3 times more than the total current worldwide proven and recoverable reserves.

Now this is great news for the global energy community. It appears that the world has basically tripled its coal reserve life. Unfortunately there's a catch.

Because the coal is under miles and miles of the frigid, rough ocean waters of the North Sea, it is terribly inaccessible. With today's technology, none of the resources are economically retrievable. It's that simple.

If, however, the coal were ever exploited, Norway could possibly become the next energy capital of the world.

Still, there is hope to use this massive resource in a different way.

The Norwegian Gasification

Coal gasification, under which coal is ignited below ground and releases gases including combustible hydrogen and methane, is currently being exploited from shallow onshore coal deposits in the United States.

Many energy professionals believe that by using coal gasification technology, companies will be able to finally utilize the vast coal reserves sitting in the Norwegian shelf.

Experts believe that by injecting oxygen into the coal they will be able to ignite the coal below the ground. This will produce a mixture of gas which can then be recovered and use for energy production.

So when can all this be done?

It's impossible to say for sure at the time being. But Olav Kårstad believes that it is possible for companies to be extracting combustible hydrogen and methane from the coal on the Norwegian shelf in as little as 30 years.

Nevertheless, coal gasification is still a fairly new technology. It must first be proven economical on land before companies will be willing to take the chance to develop any offshore resources.

Interest in onshore gasification has been increasing in nations worldwide because of high natural gas prices. With time the technology will certainly become more efficient and much more economical.

Even if coal gasification doesn't prove worthwhile, one man thinks that the coal reserves could be utilized in another way.

Plan B

Leader of Norwegian environmental watchdog Bellona, Frederic Hauge, claims that carbon dioxide gas could be injected in the vast coalfields to separate methane from the coal. The methane could then be retrieved and used for energy purposes.

Hauge believes that this proves how important it is to research technology for CO2 cleaning of the future gas powerplants that can burn the methane.

"We have to extract the CO2-gas to reinject it in the coal fields." Hauge said, "This can be done simultaneously with development of CO2-cleaning"

Norway is the world's third-largest oil exporter behind Saudi Arabia and Russia and provides much of Western Europe's crude oil and gas requirements.

Even so, the current amount of energy in the methane that can be extracted from the coal far exceeds the energy in today's known Norwegian oil and gas fields.

The vast coal reserves beneath the seabed off Norway could supply world demand for centuries if scientists ever found an economical way to tap the deposits.

Thirty years from now, oil producing rigs could be setting coal on fire far below the sea, rather than pumping oil.

That's if another cheap, safe and abundant energy source isn't discovered by then.


Luke Burgess

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