|Coal Communications Kit - Natural Resources: Resource Depletion vs. Creation|
Headlines like these capture our attention. From a young age, we are taught that fossil fuels are finite resources and at one point the world will run out. According to some sources, the endpoint could be as early as 2088 (Ecotricity):
Energy Reserves over Time
Such doomsday warnings are contradicted by reports on how much reserves are left in the world.
Technological advances in how we extract fossil fuels have made significant impacts in the industry. These advances are most notable in natural gas production and exploration. Advances in horizontal drilling techniques are increasing production at an astonishing rate. Before the horizontal drilling boom around 2009, natural gas exploration and development in Pennsylvania was steady with operators drilling a few thousand vertical wells. Before 2009, wells in Pennsylvania produced around 500 million cubic feet per day. As drilling shifted from vertical to horizontal methods, gas production quadrupled with wells in the same region now averaging 3.5 billion cubic feet per day in 2011 (EIA).
The same technological advances used for natural gas are also having an impact on the coal industry. In March, 2014, British scientists announced a discovery of massive coal deposit find under the North Sea. Seismic tests show the seabed contains up to 20 layers of coal with an estimate of up to 23 trillion tonnes of reserves. Energy companies knew onshore deposits extended offshore, but were uncertain to what scale and deemed inaccessible. Using technologies now in place for oil and gas drilling, these previously inaccessible deposits are being moved to accessible status, and therefore providing enough resources to power the UK for years to come (UK Daily Mail, 2014).
Not only are we getting better at accessing these resources, we’re also more efficient using them. Great strides have been made in the automotive sector with regards to fuel consumption. Vehicle fuel consumption in 1975 averaged less than 15 miles per gallon (mpg). Fast-forward to 2010 and vehicles now average around 27 mpg. (Pewtrusts, 2011)
Even more fascinating is what lies ahead for the coal industry. A lot of media focus has been on clean coal technologies (CCT) and carbon capture and storage (CCS) to increase oil production via enhanced oil recovery (EOR). As these technologies prove to become more reliable and financially feasible, there is more research under way for even more viable solutions. Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) may prove to be another key solution for future sustainability. UCG is applied to in situ coal seams, particularly deep deposits that are uneconomic to extract via traditional methods. Using the same chemical reactions as surface gasifiers, these seams can be converted to syngas to fuel electric generators. Combining UCG with CCS could very well be the key to extending the life of reserves worldwide (SME, 2015)
We must continue to make technological and engineering advancements in accessing and using fossil fuels. This philosophy is best expressed in a Report of the Department of the Interior from 1919, which discussed the future of our nation’s natural resources. Nearly a hundred years later, we are still discussing these same issues and coming up with the same conclusions.
Technological advancements provide a winning scenario for fossil fuels: they have led to increases in amount of estimated recoverable reserves, increases in production, and increases in usage efficiency.