Coal Running Out, Prices to Soar, Nature Reports

(Corrects spelling of name throughout in story originally published Nov. 23.)

Economic global coal reserves will run out faster than expected because of overly optimistic estimates and accelerating demand, leading to a surge in prices, Nature magazine reported in its Nov. 18 issue.

“The inevitable result of soaring demand and dwindling supply will be rising coal prices globally, even in nations that are currently self-sufficient in the resources,” Richard Heinberg and David Fridley, fellows at the Post-Carbon Institute in Santa Rosa, California wrote in an article in the magazine. “Energy policies relying on cheap coal have no future.”

China last year imported a record amount of coking coal, used for steelmaking, while India almost doubled purchases of energy coal for its power stations, pushing takeover activity in the sector.

China, the world’s biggest producer and consumer of coal, has coal resources of 187 billion metric tons, second to the U.S., according to data collected in the 2000-10 national resource survey by China’s Ministry of Land and Resources, or about 62 years’ worth of coal, according to Heinberg and Findley.

“But the overwhelming global trend, as revealed by national coal surveys over the past few decades, is for the size of countries’ estimated reserves to shrink as geologists uncover restrictions,” Heinberg and Fridley said. “Coal consumption is accelerating fast. This renders meaningless reserves-lifetime figures calculated on the basis of flat demand.”

The peak of world coal supply “may be only years” away as the world’s highest quality and most accessible coal reserves are depleted in light of growing demand, Heinberg and Fridley said, citing scientific studies.

To contact the reporter on this story: Elisabeth Behrmann in Sydney at ebehrmann1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew Hobbs at ahobbs4@bloomberg.net

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