Posted: 10/23/14 12:25
by Dave Mindeman
I grew up in North Dakota. I graduated from North Dakota State - go Bison! So I have some deep roots there. I have deep philosophical and political differences with my home state - but you learn to accept things the way they are.
But North Dakota is jeopardizing its future in a way that will be difficult to extricate itself. It is a state heavily dependent on energy resources. The oil and gas fracking industry is now deeply embedded into North Dakota's financial structure. And that is part of their future problem.
However, they are doubling down. A recent news release shows that North Dakota is going to begin a return to coal mining. The Coyote Creek Mine will occupy over 8,000 acres near Beulah, North Dakota. It is an extremely rural area - low population. That part of North Dakota can probably withstand a mining operation for the present. But it is the future I worry about.
Despite what you hear there is no viable method of clean coal. And North Dakota is predominantly lignite coal.....
Lignite coal has a low carbon content (25-35%) but a high percentage of water (30-40%) making it uneconomical to ship. All the power plants in ND are near the coal mining fields where the coal can be burned on site rather than ship as is done with the harder more efficient coals of the Powder River Basin (Wyoming) or Appalachia (WV, KY). Lignite has abundant impurities. Among the impurities is particularly high emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2).
Because of that high CO2 content, there have been attempts to some valiant attempts to sequester that carbon in the ground at North Dakota coal plants. But what they have done so far is a blip on the radar and the fact that they are using lignite makes the CO2 release much to high to get any real benefit from the small sequestering efforts.
North Dakota has not had a new coal plant since the 1970's. But if this new permit is any indication of a renewed commitment by North Dakota to coal, then we all will pay a price.
Coal is not the future source of energy production. We need to gradually eliminate coal from the mix and we can actually do that if we get more production from renewables. We are actually almost to that point. North Dakota relies on coal for a lot its electricity. And that may work in a low population state where people have plenty of available space to steer clear of the production sites. But the pollution released affects everyone.
New coal plants are not necessary. And the more you build the harder they become to get rid of. Because of the jobs and because of the areas that become dependent on the power production. It becomes a local political football and we already have squeamish politicians when it comes to shutting down dirty coal plants.
North Dakota was, for a time, the home of Teddy Roosevelt. He came there to let the wide open, clean spaces heal his soul. He loved his time here and talked of it often, but he would be saddened by the danger his pristine Badlands is in because of the ever growing tentacles of big oil, gas, and coal in the wide open spaces of North Dakota.
It is hard enough to deal with the fracking in the Bakken Fields. There are unknown future problems there. But to reposition coal in an already very dirty mix is just not very smart in terms of looking to the future.
The permit has been approved and there is no going back now. But I hope that, at some point, North Dakota will reexamine what it is doing. They may look back on this time and have a future conversation that looks at the big mistake they made right here, right now.
Coal is NOT the future.