Are we really the Saudi Arabia of coal?

I keep hearing the U.S. described as the “Saudi Arabia of coal.” This turns out to be half true. According to BP, China produced three billion tons of coal in 2009, or 46% of the world’s share. In second place was the U.S., with .97 billion tons, 16% of the world’s share. But in proven reserves, according to the World Energy Council (an NGO), we lead with 23% of the world’s supply, followed by Russia (14%), China (13%), and Australia (9%).

Awkwardly, a lot of the U.S.’s supply of coal is under stuff—you know, cities, homes, schools, roads, etc.—rendering it functionally inaccessible. China manages to export more with fewer reserves because they’re communist—property can be seized at any time—and because they mine with little regard for human life, running the world’s deadliest mines, in which thousands of people die every year, an average of six people every day. I’m not sure that we want to compete with that.

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »

2 replies on “Are we really the Saudi Arabia of coal?”

  1. It should still be noted that China is a net importer. If we are talking exports, Australia is the Saudi Arabia of coal. That has a good deal to do with China.

    I recently heard a report on NPR that Seattle was looking to expand its port facilities to handle more coal exports to China. But there was speculation that by the time we add more supply, Mongolia would make it irrelevant.

    If it takes 30 more years (if even that short a duration) before the world peaks in coal usage, I wonder what the impact is going to be. A bleak picture I’m sure.

  2. Sure would be nice if more people cared about how destructive coal mining can be, never mind what it does to the air. But I do like my lights.

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