Posted by: drgeophysics | September 25, 2009

Coal assessment and GIS data related URLs

Note the increase in the coal component of the US energy mix.

Note the increase in the coal component of the US energy mix.

There are many excellent URLs related to coal resources and potentially valuable in GIS-based projects dealing with coal.  Although I cannot believe it, the percentage of coal used for power in the United States has increased over my years working as a geoscientist.  It amazes me that in the 21st century (which I through would be somewhat like a Star Trek episode) we burn rocks for energy; but we do and coal is an important portion of our overall energy mix.  Here are some of the links:

National Coal Database (USGS)

The U.S. Geological Survey Energy Resources Program has developed coal databases to monitor the location, quantity, and physical and chemical characteristics of U.S. coal and coal-related deposits.  The National Coal Resources Data System (NCRDS) database is an integrated system utilizing commercial software to produce maps, resource calculations, and coal quality location maps.  NCRDS correlates and standardizes coal data from Federal and State agencies, universities, the private sector, and foreign countries. NCRDS is comprised of three major components, of which two are available online:

  • Coal distribution data (USCOAL) containing published coal-resource estimates for coal bearing states listed by state, county, coal field, geologic age, formation, rank, coal thickness, overburden thickness, and reliability of resource estimates.
  • Coal point-source and chemical data (COALQUAL) containing geodetic location, field observations, sample analyses, bed thickness; lithology; depth of burial, moisture, ash, and sulfur content, heat value, and major-, minor-trace-element contents.

National Coal Assessments.

USGS main coal website.

Publications and data by year from the USGS related to coal.

NCRDS State Coorperative Projects.

National geologic map database from the USGS.

This is a recent reassessment of a coal unit in Wyoming. The initial estimates are often highly inaccurate.  Note the difference between the resource and reserve of a non-renewable resource. These terms are often confused and used interchangeably in the media.   The resource available is the total amount that exists in the system being discussed.  The reserve is the amount, given present technology and economics, which can be recovered.

As an example, if we are discussing Gold, and you were not aware of this distinction, I would say that seawater represents the best possible source of Gold, because dissolved within it is a vast resource of gold.  However, you know the difference and as you are throwing me out the door, you can say that this resource is unrecoverable and does not represent a reserve of Gold.   Here is the Gillette coalfield reassessment paper from the USGS.

The total original coal resource in the Gillette coalfield for all eleven coal beds assessed, and no restrictions applied, was calculated to be 201 billion short tons. Available coal resources, which are part of the original coal resource that is accessible for potential mine development after subtracting all restrictions, are about 164 billion short tons (81 percent of the original coal resource).

Recoverable coal, which is the portion of available coal remaining after subtracting mining and processing losses, was determined for a stripping ratio of 10:1 or less. After mining and processing losses were subtracted, a total of 77 billion short tons of coal were calculated (48 percent of the original coal resource).

Coal reserves are the portion of the recoverable coal that can be mined, processed, and marketed at a profit at the time of the economic evaluation. With a discounted cash flow at 8 percent rate of return, the coal reserves estimate for the Gillette coalfield is10.1 billion short tons of coal (6 percent of the original resource total) for the 6 coal beds evaluated.

The next time you see a published report relating to a resource assessment of hydrocarbons, coal, uranium or any other non renewable resource carefully read it with respect to this distinction.

No discussion of coal can be made without a discussion CO2 reduction protocols.  GoogleEarth has recently announced on their blog site a suite of tools that allow global change data to be reviewed in their viewing tool.  Here is the link. IPCC and other reports are reviewed in this blog.

This is the first coal fired power plant in the United States and is removing CO2 from the gas exhaust stream and storing it underground.  Here is the New York Times article.


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