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The many problems with clean coal

The many problems with clean coal

Most of us have heard of the clean coal terminology, especially during the presidential debates between Obama and McCain, but is there even such a thing as clean coal? Well, the answer is no. One of the major issues with clean coal is the actual acquisition. Most coal is acquired by the process of mountaintop removal. This process involves the removal of up to 1,000 vertical feet of overburden (chunks of the topography of the mountain)  to expose underlying coal seams. Much of this overburden is moved into valleys in order to create valley fills. Naturally, this causes a huge disturbance in the balance of the ecosystem and environment. In the Appalachias nearly 1 million acres of forests have been destroyed due to mountaintop removal. The process itself also creates a liquid waste called slurry that is deposited in open lagoons. Naturally, when it floods, this waste (which contains heavy metals as well as carcinogenic compounds) flows into groundwater, affecting the water that people drink normally. Mountaintop removal not only increases the amount of debris in the air, it also threatens the lives of many people. Some people who have lived near the Appalachias have had their lives threatened by the mining companies to move out. One man, who lived on a piece of land worth nearly $450 million had his life threatened and even had some people from the mining company kill his dogs. Others have had similar stories. (source: Orion Magazine)

Not only is coal acquisition dirty, creating clean coal plants themselves may not be feasible. While there is technology that can capture the carbon emissions from coal, the problem iis storing these gases safely (namely underground). Unfortunately there is no way to ensure that these gases do not leak out. Even the smallest amount of leaking could mitigate climate change. Greenpeace, one of the leading environmental organizations, gave the following reasons for not supporting clean coal in their report False Hope: Why Carbon Capture and Storage Won’t Save the Climate:

CCS cannot deliver in time to avoid dangerous climate change. The earliest possibility for deployment of CCS at utility scale is not expected before 2030. To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, global greenhouse gas emissions have to start falling after 2015, just seven years away.

CCS wastes energy. The technology uses between 10 and 40 percent of the energy produced by a power station. Wide scale adoption of CCS is expected to erase the efficiency gains of the last 50 years, and increase resource consumption by one third.

Storing carbon underground is risky. Safe and permanent storage of CO2 cannot be guaranteed. Even very low leakage rates could undermine any climate mitigation efforts.

CCS is expensive. It could lead to a doubling of plant costs, and an electricity price increase of 21-91 percent. Money spent on CCS will divert investments away from sustainable solutions to climate change.

CCS carries significant liability risks. It poses a threat to health, ecosystems and the climate. It is unclear how severe these risks will be. (Greenpeace report)

In the end, no matter how much politician tout clean coal, there is no such thing environmentally or in terms of practice. The time to act is now in order to stop more coal from being mined and to save lives as well as the environment.

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8:51AM PST on Feb 19, 2011

Whatever happened to looping those stacks together to make the clouds of gas (that we are talking about putting back into the ground) go back into a furnace to be burned? It was used and discussed as successful in the 90's. Where did that idea go?

6:33PM PST on Feb 13, 2009

Using solar and wind power in fact is entirely feasible, as most people may already know the Cape Wind project has only 130 turbines and will power over 400,000 homes. 51% of San Francisco in fact will be powered by solar and wind by 2017. It is entirely doable. We can't obviously phase out oil and coal immediately, but as we start implementing more and more renewable energy, we won't have to fall back on these fossil fuels quite as much. The US only makes up 4% of the world's population and contributes 30% of the world's pollution and consumes around 25% of the world's resources. We are a wasteful country and that needs to change. Here's the great part about using renewable energy sources as well, as new technology develops for these energy sources, we can implement them as it comes out rather than creating a new factory.

1:31AM PST on Feb 13, 2009

Can we please have a poll to vote whether we support the use of coal or not. It should be stopped and governments in all countries should be educated as to the dangers of persisting with this form of enery supply. We have to stop it please!
Sonya - Cape Town, South Africa

11:55AM PST on Feb 12, 2009

Jeffrey - The source is Orion Magazine (like the constellation), not The Onion.

This article is dead-on.

9:51AM PST on Feb 11, 2009

STOP pillaging the planet with your dirty coal technology. Think outside the box.

6:45AM PST on Feb 11, 2009

ah mr dwight - what happens when a natural disaster reaps havoc at your storage sites - on every sunny day all is well but what of the day when s__t happens ?
why do we want to struggle to live in our own self generated waste? why not sacrifice by reducing and waiting for something truly better than walking the path of the easy fix -
this is like going home drunk from the bar with the first pretty face - you cannot know enough to commit to relationship as it looks good but what time brings cannot be seen....
i believe you are educated but short sited and lack patience

6:31AM PST on Feb 11, 2009

Please be very careful of citing sources such as "The Onion" which is a satirical magazine. It would be preferable to dig deeper and cite their source, if there is one.

5:52AM PST on Feb 11, 2009

The last thing one should want to do is pump formations full of carbon gas. these very same formations will be drilled through time and time again in the process of oil and gas exploration. This idea is ludacris and just begs for abuse or an accident.

4:49AM PST on Feb 11, 2009



1. The present owners of Coal Fired Electrical Generator plants have vast investments and are in place now and doing a job keeping up with the demands.
2. The only cure to save our air and environment is for them to fork out the cash now to capture the gases scrub to reduce the amount of the abrasives out, then pump the remainder of the carbon gases to near by pipelines to be forwarded to the destinations for injecting back into carbon based formations to be held securely captive.
3. In WORLD WAR II oil was needed on the East Coast of America and in record time of about one year pipelines were laid from the East Texas oil fields to that area.


We do not have the money or time to lean on think tanks and others who propose to study this problem for us for profit. What we have at hand is not rocket science nor is it a matter that NASA or the likes can cure for us. The cure is not a 60 second flash in the pan --- it is sound sane and doable. But like most things today someone at the top of the heap politically must be the PRIME MOVER.

4:48AM PST on Feb 11, 2009

By Dwight Baker

A grave danger of excess is brewing in political commerce, banking and trade circles that many if not most have not come to recognize. And if we as a nation of those NOT skilled in the tasks of study will continue to be falsely led ---- then we as a nation will drown in false hopes and promises that are not sound and are not right for our generation or those to soon follow us our posterity.


1. Carbon gases can be pumped into oil and gas formations and be safely held forever.
2. Most of the energy used to do so is electrical.
3. Most of the hardware needed is off the shelf and is readily available.
4. No new technology is needed to be proved to do so.
5. Pipelines are in place now to efficiently pump the carbon gases.


1. Wind wave sun and other energy sources can only produce a mere less than 10% of our needs when fully functional.
2. And to do so at this time will cost vast amounts of money that at this time is in short supply.
3. Nuclear energy is a good source to fall back on but it takes a long time to manufacture then build.
4. And the cost to dismantle and discard Coal Fired electrical Generator plants to switch over to nuclear plants is again at this time not feasible.


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