A poor argument for coal liquefaction

On Monday, The American Thinker posted an article by Jonathan D. Strong titled A Proven Way to Lessen Dependence on Foreign Oil. In the article, he argues that obtaining oil from coal liquefaction is a proven, clean process that would eliminate our dependence on Middle Eastern Oil.

I'm by no means an expert on coal liquefaction, but I found some holes in Mr. Strong's argument I'd like to point out.

First of all, Mr. Strong says that "[t]he refining process does not pollute." Now, if you take the Bush administration's stance that carbon dioxide is not a pollutant, you'd be correct. However, Wikipedia states that coal liquefaction production methods "release carbon dioxide (CO2) in the conversion process, far more than is released in the extraction and refinement of liquid fuel production from petroleum. If these methods were adopted to replace declining petroleum supplies carbon dioxide emissions would be greatly increased on a global scale."

Secondly, Mr. Strong brings up the estimated cost of producing a single barrel of oil from coal as $30 to $35. While this seems to be about correct, he deceptively posits these numbers against the $70 per barrel we've been seeing lately on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Production cost and market value are two very different things. Now, I won't pretend to be able to forecast the the profit margin of a barrel of oil produced from coal, but Mr. Strong also fails to include the cost of CO2 sequestration. On the College Du Management De La Technologie website, the Association Internationale de Specialistes en Energie (AISEN) estimates this process to add $10 to $20 per barrel. So in actuality, we're looking at the production cost of a barrel of oil from coal to be between $40 to $55 per barrel. Now add a profit margin to that to get your market value.

Lastly, I'm slightly confused by Mr. Strong's math. He says, "Montana has 2.4 billion tons of coal, which could produce mass quantities of oil for years to come." I'm assuming that Mr. Strong's tons are short tons, so by converting them to metric tonnes (multiply by 0.907185) we get 2.177 billion. Now, according to this oil industry conversions page, "a barrel a day is roughly 50 tonnes a year," so 50 tonnes should equal 365 barrels meaning 2.177 billion tonnes equals 15.892 billion barrels of oil potentially available from coal in Montana. Sounds like a lot, but according to the University of Nebraska Omaha, the U.S. uses 19.6 million barrels of oil per day. At that rate, Montana's entire oil from coal supply would be consumed in 811 days. Technically speaking, I suppose Mr. Strong is correct when he says "for years to come," but 2 years and 81 days hardly seems like a long term solution. Now, I do understand that Montana would not be the only source of oil produced from coal, however, I do have a problem with the way Mr. Strong deceitfully states his case. (If my calculations or terms are incorrect, please correct me.)

I'm not trying to claim here that coal liquefaction is an evil production process, but Mr. Strong's argument seems to stand on shaky ground.

[Source: The American Thinker]

More Information