November 21, 2005 Seeking Clean Fuel for a Nation, and a Rebirth for Small-Town Montana By TIMOTHY EGAN
HELENA, Mont., Nov. 15 - If the vast, empty plain of eastern Montana is the Saudi Arabia of coal, then Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a prairie populist with a bolo tie and an advanced degree in soil science, may be its Lawrence.
Rarely a day goes by that he does not lash out against the "sheiks, dictators, rats and crooks" who control the world oil supply or the people he calls their political handmaidens, "the best Congress that Big Oil can buy." >>
<<Coal-to-fuel conversion, which was practiced out of necessity by pariah nations like Nazi Germany and South Africa under apartheid, has been around for more than 80 years. It is called the Fischer-Tropsch process. What is new is the technology that removes and stores the pollutants during and after the making of synthetic fuel; add to that high oil prices, which have suddenly made this form of energy alchemy feasible. The coal could be converted into gasoline or diesel, which would run cars, or into other types of fuel.
With coal reserves of about 120 billion tons, Montana has one-third of the nation's total and a tenth of the global amount. Most of it is just under the prairie grass in the depopulated ranch country of eastern Montana. Mr. Schweitzer wants to plant coal-to-fuel factories in towns that have one foot in the grave. It may not provide enough fuel to wean the West off imported oil, but it may be enough to show the rest of the country that there is another way, he said.>>
<<Certainly jobs are a big motivating factor. Montana is a poor state and ranks last in average wages. Mr. Schweitzer, whose approval rating is near 70 percent, says thousands of good-wage jobs can be gained in towns that are dying.
He is also promoting wind energy and the use of biofuels, using oil from crops like soybeans as a blend. The governor signed a measure this year that requires Montana to get 10 percent of its energy from wind power by 2010, a goal he said would be reached within a few years. Still, the Big Sky State, with a population under a million, has fewer people than the average metro area of a midsize American city, and its influence is limited. The governor acknowledged as much. >>
20. it isn't all that economical unless oil is over 30 bucks a barrel
which, it is way over now. That is one reason why it hasn't really been used much before. It was never cost effective, but now it is. It's not an absolute solution but it is a step in a different direction. Schweitzer is innovative and he's environmentally concsious. He's not going to rape and pillage the environment to do this.
7. People often represent "clean coal" technologies, but it's just marketing.
The most important problems with any use of coal are all the same. The release of greenhouse gases is always number 1. In this case the release is even higher, because FT chemistry requires considerable heat. To produce this heat, some of the coal is burned, releasing nitrogen oxides. Then there are also the usual problems of mine acid leachate, the formation of sulfur oxides and acids, and the disposal of ash and the heavy metals therein.
Finally the source of the hydrogen in the fuels is water. FT chemistry requires quite a bit of water, water which is not recyclable in anyway since it is destroyed in the process to make hydrogen.
Finally, ultimately the FT fuels produced will be very much like petroleum products. Living outside this plant will be therefore much like living outside any refinery. In addition, an FT plant will probably on occasion release carbon monoxide. In a failure mode, it may release huge amounts of carbon monoxide.
Basically "clean coal" is always an oxymoron. There is no way to make coal clean, especially during the global climate change crisis that is now underway.
Pretty country. I expected to be appalled and saddened to what must have been done to the earth, especially seeing long train after train loaded with coal going east.
What I did see was beautiful rolling range land, grass, horses, cows, good roads, state of the art schools in very small towns, and those towns were THRIVING!
The new mining methods were out of view from the roads, with only the huge towers which convey coal to the train cars even visible here and there. Where the coal had already been extracted, the ground was mended and grass was growing. Couldn't tell it from the undisturbed land next to it. Taxes are low, services are modern and very plush. There is money for parks, beautiful rest areas along highways, fire and police service. There are new hospitals and clinics.
After the mess left in Montana by Marc Racicot (google his name + prisons for info on HIS priorities) who went on to lobby for folks like ENRON and chair the RNC and bush reelection committee for awhile, we need a change in thinking around here. There is no future for the young people if we don't.
And if diesel can be made for $35 a barrel this way, we can keep growing food in America and keep consumers from having to sell their first born to be able to eat it. Food production takes fuel. Getting food to a store near you takes fuel. Put that equation on the table too.
I have seen Thunder Basin. I live in Eastern Montana. I have seen Coalstrip, both the mine and the town. I am willing to give this a try. The results are not what most of you would imagine.
Our governor is doing great things to motivate people to look to new solutions. Coal for now because the technology is there, and the coal is VERY close to the surface in these parts. Wind power because it is clean and feasible too. Looking for many ways to solve the immediate crisis and secure a better future.
I have seen Thunder Basin. It is not what most would expect.
the old days. Come to Helena. Give the Gov a chance to give you the latest facts. A soil scientist with a history of REAL concern and public service might be able to help people get over the fears of extraction and processing will destroy the environment.
12. I agree that coal is very dirty but I love the governor's
Edited on Mon Nov-21-05 10:29 AM by OregonBlue
"the best Congress that Big Oil can buy." I think we all should be using this one!! I'm in agreement with the DU post today about the elephant in the room. Seems the Brits are talking about oil as the reason for going to war. We need to turn up the heat on this one!
The Pres and VP think that the American people are naive. They know that oil has peaked. They see OPEC's control of oil as the major threat to our way of life. They honestly believe they are justified in going to war over oil resources but know they couldn't just come out and say that is what it's about.
I think they consider themselves real patriots who are doing the right thing for the country even if we're too dumb to know it. Of course, it doesn't hurt that they and their elite friends are getting filthy rich off the war.
All the calls for withdrawl will fall on deaf ears. We are building bases and are there to stay until the oil is gone!!!
Especially since we have so many others out there that are more efficient, renewable and much less polluting.
Coal to fuel is extremely pollution intensive, from the mountaintops that are ground down to molehills to the sheer amount of water that is needed in this process, contaminated, and dumped back into the watertable.
Rather we should be putting our energy and effort in things like wind, solar, biodiesel, diesel hybrids and a wide ranging conservation effort.
16. Coal near me is a few INCHES under the surface of rolling prairie
No mountain tops here to start with! The coal is so close to the surface that I cannot go 2 miles from my home without seeing it ON THE SURFACE, where it is being exposed more and more by erosion. In a place that only sees an average ot 12 inches of precipitation a year (yeah, that includes SNOW) erosion is NOT a big mover and shaker That coal does not require the murder of montains.
17. No, but the extreme pollution generated by this process still applies
To that coal two inches under the surface. Go do some research on this subject, and be ready to be appalled. It is energy intensive, and quite polluting.
And while YOU may have coal close to the surface, the majority of coal these days is deep underground, requiring companies to strip mine across hundreds of acres, or to grind down mountains for the coal. Definetly not enviromentally friendly.
And if I were you, I would keep your little coal secret just that, a secret. Otherwise, unless you have specific mineral rights on your property, you will be seeing the spector of coal mining companies rolling up and setting up shop in your front yard. Then you'll get to see up closes and personal just how destructive coal mining can be, even when it is just inches under the surface.
22. And all of those reasons are precisely why we need to get away from coal
Especially in light of the fact that there is enough harvestable wind resources in three states, North and South Dakota along with Texas, to supply all of the US electrical needs, including forcasted growth, through the year 2030.
Coal mining is a huge polluter in the west. Coal usage is a huge polluter all over. Time we got rid of it and switched to more enviromentally friendly renewable resources like wind, solar, and biodiesel among others.
you can't switch everything overnight. He's working on big projects for wind, solar and ethanol right now. More so than pretty much any other governor. He's so far ahead of the curve that most people are forgetting that his ideas go way beyond Fisher-Tropsch. That's just one element of it. Coal isn't the final solution, he doesn't think so either, but he has an opportunity to use a resource in the meantime which is a better alternative than ME oil, while creating jobs in some of the poorest places in the nation and he's taking advantage of it. He'd be foolish not to do so. He's also reworking Montana's clean air laws, which had been gutted for 12 years, and his leadership on alternative resources has been actionable. He's only been in office 10 months and he's done more for alternative resources, like you mentioned, than just about anybody else.
Plus, if I run and get elected for State Senate there, then I plan on pushing for alternatives even more. He said he expects to meet some of his alternative resource goals ahead of time. I would like to see him to continue to set those goals higher and higher. Specifically in my district, I want to utilize wind and ethanol alternatives. In my district alone, the wind resources are so harvestable it could probably supply the whole state's electrical needs. At least I would think. Trust me, I've talked to his office, I've been doing lots of research on him and the people around him. This guy is the real deal and he'll push for the more environmentally friendly resources that you're interested. He already has, but he just can't do it overnight.
23. Fisher-Tropsch is part of an overall plan Schweitzer has....
This guy is a smart, innovative agronomist and rancher who is way ahead of the curve on this stuff. He's probably the most environmentally friendly and conscious politician in the country. He has worked land in Saudia Arabia and then in MT for a living. The naysayers that complain about the potential damage this may do typically don't know anything about MT or haven't seen the newer technologies that are used to do this. It's not perfect, but it is part of an overall concept to find alternatives to ME oil. It burns relatively clean, it will not rape and pillage the environment and it's just one part of something bigger.
Some people will always fight ideas like this. Some will have good reasons to do so. But I would rather have a guy like Brian Schweitzer out there at least working on ways to make a difference then to rely on the big business status quo. Schweitzer is the real deal and anything he proposes shouldn't be looked at in the same way you would look at, say a proposal by a guy like Bush. He's a man of integity through and through.
25. I get the feeling, watching Schweitzer, that he is a REAL student
of the Al Gore school. You can have a decent economy by creating jobs while evolving the solutions to energy needs.
Same ol same ol only benefits those that already control energy. They also keep a legislative strangle-hole on R&D $$ and make sure alternative source visionaries will be unable to really change our energy policies due to financial restraints.
One of the first things Reagan did was get rid of tax credits Joe Citizen had available for making investments in things like solar. Lots of solar panels went up on modest homes in Helena for a while then no one did much because the average person needed those tax credits to help pay for being a responsible energy consumer.
We do need to change just about everything regarding energy in this country. We need to be able to close those coal burning electric plants and don't EVEN get me started on nuclear wastes being sent from the east to be stored for thousands of years in my beloved west...
In the meantime, we need to start the ball rolling and prove to America that change can be a lot less painful and a lot more financially helpful than Big Oil keeps telling them.
And, hey WB, I have seen a bunch of REALLY BIG blades and tower equipment going by the past several weeks! The winds of change are coming... But since the truckers also need diesel to get wheat to American tables, the coal fuel just might be a help for the NOW.
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