Donald Trump vowed to revive the coal industry but figures show its future is as bleak as ever Long-term growth and hiring prospects remain weak despite administration’s policy changes to make energy sector more competitive at expense of environmental concerns

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us-coal.jpgEarth moving equipment sits by a coal pile at the Century Mine in Beallsville, Ohio Joshua Roberts/Reuters

A year after Donald Trump was elected President on a promise to revive the ailing US coal industry, the sector’s long-term prospects for growth and hiring remain as bleak as ever.

A Reuters review of mining data shows an industry that has seen only modest gains in jobs and production this year – much of it from a temporary up-tick in foreign demand for US coal rather than presidential policy changes.

US utilities are shutting coal-fired power plants at a rapid pace and shifting to cheap natural gas, along with wind and solar power. And domestic demand makes up about 90 percent of the market for US coal.

”We’re not planning to build any additional coal facilities,“ said Melissa McHenry, a spokeswoman for American Electric Power (AEP), one of the largest US utilities. “The future for coal is dictated by economics… and you can’t make those kinds of investments based on one administration’s politics.”

Coal plants now make up 47 percent of AEP’s capacity for power generation, a figure it plans to shrink to 33 percent by 2030.

The situation highlights the limitations of presidential policy on major industries and global economic trends. As some energy experts have said all along, the forces that will make or break mining are well beyond the powers of the Oval Office.

A White House official did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump has likely done all he can do to help the industry, said Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the National Mining Association, which represents major US coal companies.

“The government is no longer against us,“ he said. ”We now only have market forces to contend with.”

Trump has taken action on many promises he made to coal interests in states that helped him win the election.

The President started the process of killing former President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, meant to reduce carbon emissions from power plants; ended an Obama-era moratorium on coal leasing on federal lands; ditched limits on dumping coal waste into streams; and started withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Now Trump’s Energy Secretary, Rick Perry, is attempting to push a rule through the independent Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that would subsidise power plants that store at least a 90-day supply of coal on site. The goal is to extend the life of some coal burning power plants, a move Perry says will make the electric grid more reliable.

While the full impact of Trump’s coal policy could take years to understand, the changes so far are unlikely to boost domestic demand, energy analysts and utility officials said.

Trump has cast the coal industry as a victim of burdensome regulation.

The industry has lost more than 40 percent of its work force in less than a decade and seen production drop to its lowest levels since 1978. Its share of the power market has fallen to less than a third from about half in 2003.

“We’re going to bring the coal industry back 100 percent,” Trump said at a rally in Virginia in August of 2016.

So far, progress has been limited.

US coal production is on track to rise more than 8 percent in 2017 over the previous year, to 790 million tonnes, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). But 2018 output is expected to decline.

The number of coal miners has also risen slightly to 51,900 in October, up about 2,200 since November 2016 – but down about 70 percent from a 1985 peak, according to the Labour Department.

On 1 November, Trump cited the modest production increases in a Tweet, saying, “It is finally happening for our great clean coal miners!”

But these increases are largely attributable to demand for US coal from Asian steel mills after temporary outages from their usual suppliers in Australia, according to James Stevenson, a coal analyst at IHS Markit.

During the first six months of 2017, Asian countries took in 7.5 million short tonnes of US coal, up 97 percent over the same period in 2016, according to the EIA.

That demand will soon fade, Stevenson said.

“We are not going to get a repeat of 2017,” he said of the spike in exports.

Forecasts from utilities and the US government reveal little reason for hope of a sustained coal rebound.

Utilities are expected to shut down more than 13,600 megawatts of coal plant capacity in 2018. That follows a loss of nearly 8,000 MW this year and 13,000 MW in 2016, according to EIA and Thomson Reuters data.

By 2025, coal-fired power plant capacity will dip to 226,380 MW, down about 30 percent from 2011, according to EIA.

Three Texas coal plants owned by Vistra Energy subsidiary Luminant are among the latest to close, bringing the number of plants that shut, or plan to, to 265 since 2010 – a figure higher than the 258 plants that remain, according to the Sierra Club, which has campaigned against coal.

Vistra said the closures were forced by lower prices for natural gas and renewable power – and not by environmental regulations.

Duke Energy, one of the country’s largest utilities, has shut down more than 5,400 MW of coal capacity since 2011 and plans to shed another 2,000 MW by 2024.

Over the next decade, Duke plans to invest $11 billion in new natural gas and renewable power – and nothing in new coal-fired generation, said spokesman Rick Rhodes.

A 2 November report by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis – which has two of the largest coal producers in its district, Peabody Energy and Arch Coal – said coal-fired power plants “may eventually become obsolete.”

Coal companies believe they can survive despite the troubling market outlook.

Peabody expects a “modest number” of coal power plant retirements in the coming years, with some of that lost capacity shifting to remaining plants that will increase output, spokesman Vic Svec said. Arch spokeswoman Logan Bonacorsi offered a similar forecast.

Robert Murray, the chief executive of privately-held Murray Energy – one of America’s biggest underground miners – said Trump could do more for the industry. The administration, Murray said, should end tax breaks for wind and solar power and reverse an EPA finding that carbon emissions endanger human health.

But Trump’s tax bill last week preserved most solar incentives, which have bi-partisan backing. And the EPA has so far steered clear of the so-called “endangerment finding” on emissions that is the basis of many fossil-fuel regulations, given the breadth of scientific evidence that would be needed to reverse it.

Murray Energy, meanwhile, announced on 31 October it will buy a 30.5 percent stake in a coal-mining partnership in Utah called Canyon Consolidated Resources.

The deal might help the companies cut costs, but it’s unlikely to help workers: Murray said about 200 of 1,000 jobs in Utah could be lost.

By Timothy Gardner/Reuters

Posted by The NON-Conformist


Colorado residents sue state, governor to enforce local fracking ban

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Two residents of Lafayette, Colorado are suing the state, Gov. John Hickenlooper, and energy trade group Colorado Oil and Gas Association for the enforcement of the city’s fracking ban, which was passed last fall in a city-wide vote.

The class-action lawsuit filed Tuesday in Boulder County District Court comes in response to a separate suit filed by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) in December that seeks to negate Lafayette’s ban on new oil and gas extraction in the city. Sixty percent of Lafayette voters supported the measure to curb hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in November.

Lafayette residents Ann Griffin and Cliff Wilmeng, of the anti-fracking organization East Boulder County United, filed the suit that is seeking to dismiss COGA’s December lawsuit while calling for the protection of citizens’ right to self-governance pursuant to local laws and statutes.

In their complaint, Griffin and Wilmeng are requesting the court to issue injunctions “enjoining the defendants from attempting to enforce the Oil and Gas Act against the plaintiffs and the people of the city of Lafayette to invalidate the charter amendment,” as well as “any future enforcement” of the act, according to the Boulder Daily Camera.

“This suit enforces Lafayette residents’ fundamental rights, which are being directly threatened by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association,” said Willmeng in a statement. “We had to take action to protect this community, its families and property, and we will continue to assert our rights to health, safety and welfare. These fundamental rights are not subordinate to corporate privilege, and they are not the property of the governor or the state of Colorado to either give away or to overrule.”

COGA, which says it “aggressively promotes” natural gas expansion in Colorado, represents major state interests that oppose moratoriums or bans in cities like Lafayette, as well as Longmont, Broomfield, Boulder, and Fort Collins.

In a statement at the time of their filing in December, COGA said Lafayette’s ban violates state law because “state regulations specify and the state Supreme Court has ruled that oil and gas development, which must employ hydraulic fracturing or fracking, supersedes local laws and cannot be banned.”

“It is regrettable and unfortunate that COGA had to take this action,” Tisha Schuller, the association’s president, said in a December statement. “There are over 100,000 families that rely on the oil and gas industry for their livelihoods and these bans effectively stop oil and gas development.”

“With 95 percent of all wells in Colorado hydraulically fractured, any ban on fracking is a ban on oil and gas development,” she said.

The Lafayette residents’ lawsuit comes one day after Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper postponed a special legislative session to address concerns about the state’s control over natural resource extraction – and localities trying to usurp that control.

The failure to hold the special session indicates a lack of support from negotiating parties for a draft bill that would “clarify powers held by state, county and city authorities in Colorado to regulate oil-and-gas drilling,” according to The Colorado Independent.

Meanwhile, supporters of local rights hailed the Lafayette lawsuit as part of a movement in which communities will fight state governments’ edicts on energy extraction that, by and large, benefit connected, corporate players.

“This class action lawsuit is merely the first of many by people across the United States whose constitutional rights to govern their own communities are routinely violated by state governments working in concert with the corporations that they ostensibly regulate,” said Thomas Linzey, Esq., executive director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which helped Lafayette craft its Community Bill of Rights.

“The people of Lafayette will not stand idly by as their rights are negotiated away by oil and gas corporations, their state government, and their own municipal government,” he added, according to EcoWatch.

The fracking process entails blasting fissures in rocks thousands of meters under the earth with water and sand to release trapped deposits of oil and gas.

Fracking has been associated with a multitude of dangers to human and environmental health, including groundwater contamination, air pollution, migration of gases and chemicals to the ground’s surface, increase of atmospheric CO2 levels, and heightened earthquake activity.

From RT

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Duke Energy CEO: Customers will foot bill to clean up toxic coal lagoons

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Image: Reuters/Chris Keane

Duke Energy faces a $1 billion price tag to clean its coal ash waste pits in North Carolina after the company leaked around 35 million gallons of toxic coal slurry into the Dan River last month. Who will pay the bill? Customers, says Duke’s CEO.

Duke, the largest supplier of electricity in the United States, was ordered by a judge late last week to address groundwater contamination at its 33 coal ash storage lagoons at 14 sites across North Carolina. The decision came about one month after as much as 35 million gallons of coal ash and arsenic-contaminated water spilled into the Dan River due to a ruptured pipe at a Duke Energy power plant in Eden, North Carolina.

Based on a similar effort in South Carolina – in which Santee Cooper utility needed $250 million to clear 11 million tons of ash – Duke’s expenses to empty its ash sites could hit $1 billion, according to the state Utilities Commission. Duke has around 106 million total tons of coal ash waste in the state, 84 million of which were dumped into simple ponds, likely resulting in ground contamination.

Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good said the company will carry costs for cleaning the Dan River, around 70 miles of which is now caked with toxic coal waste. But as for the cleaning of the remaining sites, Good says it’s part of normal consumer costs.

“Because that ash was created over decades for the generation of electricity, we do believe that ash-pond disposal costs are ultimately part of our cost structure,” Good told the Charlotte Observer on Friday. “But the determination of payment will be up to the North Carolina Utilities Commission and how they handle that, so I think that’s something that will unfold over time.”

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Fracking chemicals disrupt human hormone functions, study claims

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Image: Reuters

Researchers at the University of Missouri and the United States Geological Survey say that chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, could be causing serious hormonal disorders in humans.

A new report published in the latest edition of the journal Endocrinology examines a dozen chemicals used regularly in fracking — an increasingly commonplace practice of releasing natural gas from within the Earth by blasting a cocktail containing millions of gallons of water and other components deep underground.

The researchers say that there are hundreds of different ingredients used in various fracking formulas, but a considerable chunk of them are suspected of being endocrine disrupting chemicals, or EDCs — chemicals that can interfere with the human body’s endocrine functions and have been linked to heightened risks of cancer, low fertility rates and decreased sperm quality.

These chemicals “could raise the risk of reproductive, metabolic, neurological and other diseases, especially in children who are exposed to EDCs,” co-author Susan Nagel of the University of Missouri’s School of Medicine said in a statement released this week by The Endocrine Society.

“The rapid expansion in drilling operations utilizing hydraulic fracturing increases the potential for environmental contamination with the hundreds of hazardous chemicals used,” her group’s report reads in part.

“With fracking on the rise, populations may face greater health risks from increased endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure,” Nagel said.

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PNNL: News – Algae to crude oil: Million-year natural process takes minutes in the lab

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Engineers have created a continuous chemical process that produces useful crude oil minutes after they pour in harvested algae — a verdant green paste with the consistency of pea soup. The research by engineers at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory was reported recently in the journal Algal Research. A biofuels company, Utah-based Genifuel Corp., has licensed the technology and is working with an industrial partner to build a pilot plant using the technology. In the PNNL process, a slurry of wet algae is pumped into the front end of a chemical reactor. Once the system is up and running, out comes crude oil in less than an hour, along with water and a byproduct stream of material containing phosphorus that can be recycled to grow more algae. With additional conventional refining, the crude algae oil is converted into aviation fuel, gasoline or diesel fuel. And the waste water is processed further, yielding burnable gas and substances like potassium and nitrogen, which, along with the cleansed water, can also be recycled to grow more algae.

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City of Dallas effectively bans fracking

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The Dallas City Council passed Wednesday new restrictions that bar hydraulic fracturing within 1,500 feet of a home, school, church, and other protected areas. The new rules effectively ban the practice within the city.

Image: wikipedia

The council approved the ordinance in a vote of 9-6, with Mayor Mike Rawlings voting for it.

The city is on the edge of the Barnett Shale area, predicted to be a treasure trove of onshore natural gas reserves. However, the new limit placed on hydraulic fracturing – known as fracking – effectively bans the practice.

“[W]e might as well save a lot of paper and write a one-line ordinance that says there will be no gas drilling in the city of Dallas,” said council member Lee Kleinman, who opposed the measure. “That would be a much easier ordinance to have.”

A gas industry representative for Trinity East, a Barnett Shale gas company that was prepared to drill, lamented the measure as a death for prospects in Dallas.

“You just can’t drill under these conditions,” said Dallas Cothrum, according to CBS DFW. “It’d require more than 250-acres of property and in an urban area it’s just not possible.”

Petroleum engineer Bill Crowder of Dallas indicated that the economic and legal wrangling over fracking in the city is not yet over.

“I want you to look me in the eye next February or March,” he said, according to the Dallas Morning News, “when I ask you, ‘What the heck were you thinking?’”

Another council member, who supported the limits, said the ordinance doesn’t ban drilling, but is aimed at keeping residents safe.

“I think this is about making sure people are protected in their neighborhoods,” council member Carolyn Davis said, according to KERA News. “It is the right thing to do.”

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Solar Power & Wind Power Now Cheaper Than Coal Power In US

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Solar Power & Wind Power Now Cheaper Than Coal Power In US (via Clean Technica)

Originally published on the NRDC website (image added). WASHINGTON — It’s less costly to get electricity from wind turbines and solar panels than coal-fired power plants when climate change costs and other health impacts are factored in, according…

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