Busting the Abundant Coal Reserves Myth

The coal industry’s spin doctors have been droning on about the abudance of coal for the last year, but new research by Dave Rutledge, Chair of Caltech’s engineering and Applied Sciences Division, calculates that the world’s coal reserves may be much less “abundant” than the coal industry would like us to think:

“The record of geological estimates made by governments for their fossil fuel estimates is really horrible,” Rutledge said during a press conference at the American Geological Union annual meeting. “And the estimates tend to be quite high. They over-predict future coal production.”

The coal lobby states that, “within our [US] borders, we have enough coal to last the next 200 years.” But by Rutledge’s calculations 90% of the entire world’s estimated coal reserves will have been produced by 2069.

You can check out a copy of Rutledge’s powerpoint presentation here (4MB powerpoint file): Rutledge coal and oil reserves presentation.


Rutledge is not alone in his estimate for Peak Coal of 2025.

A supply-driven forecast for the future global coal production, gives an estimate of 2030

This has dire consequences for us developing  replacement low power / high efficiency technologies and fossil-fuel independent power generation technologies, before we run out of cheap power. Once the peak has passed, we’ll get hit by increasing demand, falling supplies and spiralling prices. Which is exactly what OPEC hoped to achieve with peak oil, except the recession has depressed the demand for oil. So OPEC’s hopes for making ha huge windfall has disappeared, for the moment.

If we don’t develop these technologies soon, without abundant cheap energy we’ll never be able to do it!


Right now resource extraction, refining, manufacturing, transport and construction are almost entirely dependent on fossil fuels. The longer we wait the less fossil fuels we will have to construct and install their replacement, and until we replace them we will continue to be dependent on a demishing form of energy. It is a death spiral that we simply must break free of, even without the climate change that fossil fuels create.

It is a bit of juggling game this process of extracting thermal coal and metallurgical coal from underground mines to ensure enough electricity and steel capacity worldwide while making sure the impact on the environment and people is minimal. www.coalportal.com