Gas Executive’s Attack on Coal Reveals Naïveté

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  • 03/02/2023

Coal was unwrapped as one of God’s gifts to mankind in England, ultimately leading to the Industrial Revolution and unprecedented prosperity. Its introduction as a dominant fuel resolved an environmental crisis of deforestation. A Scientific American article put it this way:

“The earliest coal-burning economy the world has known was established first in England and then in Scotland between about 1550 and 1700. This transition from woodcutting to coal mining as the main source of heat was part of an early British economic revolution… The adoption of coal changed the economic history of Britain, then of the rest Europe and finally of the world.”

Today, coal — and the modern technology that makes it a clean energy source — promises to alleviate crushing poverty for millions in developing countries who have no or little access to electricity. Who breathe polluted indoor air from burning animal dung and wood to heat and cook, sit in the dark unable to study at night, carry drinking water for miles, die for lack of nourishment or proper medical care.

So, when EQT Corp. CEO Toby Rice declares war on “international coal,” we can only conclude that he misunderstands much of the world.

Mr. Rice’s attack is in a promotion of natural gas, of which his company is the country’s largest producer. We laud his efforts to expand production of this marvelous fuel and to build pipelines and other infrastructure to transport it to markets. Greater availability of U.S. gas would be beneficial to New Englanders now importing expensive foreign gas and to Europeans reliant on a hostile Russia — and to many others.

However, describing, as he does in a marketing presentation, international coal use as the “world’s largest problem” in the context of “climate efforts” reveals a naïveté that is embarrassing and unhelpful.

First, there is no need to succumb to the foolishness of climate alarmists fanning fears of carbon dioxide, a harmless gas and the most important of all plant foods. With more than twice the energy density of coal and being the inherently cleaner-burning fuel, natural gas has plenty of competitive advantages.

But gas is not always the best choice. Coal is still the cheapest and most abundant fuel for generation of electricity, providing about 40 percent of the world’s power and used in 80 countries. Moreover, coal’s supply chain is less vulnerable to interruptions since enough fuel for many weeks — or even months — is typically kept at plant sites.

Coal-fired plants are often built on top of coal deposits, minimizing the cost of transportation. The boilers of modern plants heat water to “ultra-super critical” temperatures — hundreds of degrees above its boiling point — making the conversion of heat to electricity more efficient — 40 percent versus 33 percent. This efficiency — combined with highly effective pollution controls that reduce emissions to mostly water vapor and carbon dioxide — results in electricity that is economical, reliable and environmentally friendly. There are now hundreds of such plants in the world.

Nowhere in the 56 slides of Mr. Rice’s presentation is there a comparison of costs between supplanting international coal use with gas and continued use of coal. Perhaps, cost is not a consideration when saving the world from a fake climate emergency. Possibly, the cost differential is uncomfortably large and hence hidden from the public? 

But whatever the incremental cost — and there has to be one — it would be important to people of the Third World whose way of life — and sometimes their actual lives — can depend on the price of energy. Recent increases in gas prices have even Europeans reconsidering earlier rejections of coal as a fuel.

Mr. Rice is by no means alone in his muddle over the climate issue. None other than Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, recently promoted government programs for reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide. “The need to ramp up domestic energy production is clear. But that shouldn’t’ mean we have to throw away decades of progress in dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the United States,” said Mr. Roberts.

Perhaps the most fundamental error of the likes of Messrs. Rice and Roberts is their failure to recognize that the most ardent of the climate cult care not a whit about carbon dioxide or the environment. They want control of energy markets and of the world’s people who need them. And no amount of appeasement will change that.

Such captains of labor and industry would do well to mind the words of German theologian Martin Niemöller, who recalled that, after coming for the socialists, unionists and Jews, the Nazis “came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.” They will be coming after you and your company in due time, Mr. Rice. 

Gregory Wrightstone is a geologist, Executive Director of the CO2 Coalition in Arlington, Virginia and an expert reviewer of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (AR6). He is best-selling author of Inconvenient Facts: The Science that Al Gore doesn't want you to know.

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