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AIPG Position Statement - Domestic Energy: Coal

AIPG Position Statement - Domestic Energy: Coal
(October 2009)

Dennis R. James, CPG-04970 - Chairman, Robert B. Finkelman, CPG-10417, Dwight Kinnes, CPG-10244, Brant Dennis, CPG-04834, and Greg A. Smith, CPG-08348

Coal is the world’s most abundant hydrocarbon resource.  Historically, coal has been used as an energy source for heating and electrical generation.  These uses will continue into the future, with a continued decrease in coal used for heating but increasing demand to fuel electrical generation plants.  In many countries, coal is the primary, available domestic energy source.  Therefore, as countries work to raise their standards of living, they require inexpensive and dependable energy:  Coal becomes their energy source of choice.

The table below shows that over a trillion tons of known coal reserves exist in the world. More than a quarter of the reserves exist in the United States.  At current production rates, these coal reserves will last well over 100 years. 


Current Known Reserves
(Billion Short Tons)

2006 Production
(Billion Short Tons)

Years Remaining at Current Levels

United States








Reference:  Energy Information Agency (EIA), US Department of Energy

Coal provides the fuel for 27% of the world’s energy consumption and 63% of all electrical production.  In the United States, the EIA expects coal’s share of electrical power generation to rise from 42% in 2005 to 62% in 2030.  The world demand for coal produced electrical energy is increasing at even higher rates.  China and India, in particular, are significantly increasing their coal-based electrical generation capacities.

In the near future, coal utilization will extend beyond electricity and heating.  Existing technologies will convert coal into liquid and gaseous transportation fuels, chemical feedstock, fertilizer, and other products.  With continued research and development, these alternative coal-based products might offer lower costs with a more secure, readily available supply, as compared to traditional oil-based products.

Coal extraction and utilization presents some societal and environmental challenges such as CO2 emissions, air and water quality degradation, waste disposal, etc.  However, with proper planning, operation and oversight, these issues can be mitigated or avoided.  With the anticipated increase in worldwide coal demand, it will be important for developed countries to deploy new coal-related technologies and provide these technologies to developing countries.

The United States, Australia, and Europe have addressed the issues of worker health and safety, mine reclamation, air and water quality with notable success.  This  knowledge and technology needs to be disseminated throughout the world, wherever coal is being mined and utilized.  Equally as important is the continued development of improved coal extraction and utilization processes and technologies to make them even more efficient and environmentally benign.

Coal offers the U.S., and the world, an abundant, readily available, secure, relatively inexpensive, versatile source of energy. Recent technological advances have significantly reduced many of the undesirable environmental impacts of coal use. New technological advances can continue to meet the challenges and maintain coal’s critical position in our energy mix.


Energy Information Agency, US Department of Energy web site

International Energy Outlook 2008, Energy Information Agency, US Department of Energy web site:  (http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/ieo/coal.html)

Brierley, C. L., Burke, F. P., Cobb, J., C., Finkelman, R. B., Fulkerson, W., Gluskoter, H. J., Karmis, M. E., Lackner, K. S., Mitchell, R. E., Ramani, R. V., Rendu, J.-M. M., Rubin, E. S., and Wolfe, S. A., 2007, Coal: Research and Development to Support National Energy Policy. National Research Council, The National Academies Press, Washington, D. C. 170 p.

The American Institute of Professional Geologists (AIPG) was founded in 1963 to certify the credentials
of practicing geologists and to advocate on behalf of the profession.

AIPG represents the professional interests of all practicing geoscientists in every discipline.
It's advocacy & efforts are focused on the promotion of the role of geology and geologists in society.