In the early 1960s in South Africa my parents moved to Evander, a mining town in sight of Sasol where coal was turned into petrol or gas as we term it in the Untied States. The plant was built in response to international sanctions over apartheid. If I recall correctly, Fluor designed and built the plant. So it should not take Congressional hearings to establish that the technology exists. We all know that the United States has plenty of coal–last time I wrote about the issue, I quoted a talk at the SME meeting in Denver where somebody said at least 200 years worth.
But it may well take Congresional action to bring sanity to the mining that will be required to provide the coal. I refer to recent reports on fights about valley fills at coal mines. Everybody wants their car, but nobody wants topographic change to make the car possible. Consider the civil war that will be needed to tear up the landscape of the west to get the coal required to move all those SUVs around California and keep the lights on in the Las Vegas casinos.
I usually avoid politics naked and national. In this instance, however, one cannot help but wonder if we have subconciously elected to continue an Iraq adventure in the hopes of securing oil so we can avoid a potentially nasty set of decisions at home regarding energy resources.
Clearly the fight over energy is going to get hotter as we pit uranium against coal, coal against southern valleys, oil against electricity, Alberta against the federal government, and global warming against air conditioned offices. It is perhaps too much to hope for leadership on the issue. I suspect it will be another of those great national debates in which the lawyers get rich and we “journalists” get material to write about. And the rest of America gets increasing cost for gas: $3.30 when last I looked at the local California gas station. Actually we paid just about that in 1970 in South Africa. The difference is that we drove small cars. So little changes except the “discovery” of new opportunities by another generation of car drivers.
PS. I wonder how many cubic yards of material have been moved to make the roads we drive versus the cubic yards to be moved to get the coal to make driving possible.