Fossil Fuel Synthetic Material



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Energy Law

COAL Q & A: Questions

  1. Coal is a:

  1. Renewable Natural Resource

  2. Fossil Fuel

  3. Synthetic Material

  4. Biofuel

The correct answer is b. Coal is a fossil fuel. A. is incorrect. Coal is not a renewable natural resource because it takes millions of years to create. Today’s coal was created by the heat and pressure exerted by many layers of earth on dead plants from millions of years ago. This process trapped the energy of the plants (or fossils), and formed what we now know as coal. C. is incorrect as well because coal is not synthetic, or artificially made. As described above, coal is created through a natural process. D. is also incorrect because the term biofuel generally refer to fuels derived from organic matter, such as plants, instead of fossil products.



See, http://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/index.cfm?page=coal_home#tab1

  1. How is coal generally used to create energy?

  1. Coal is generally liquefied to create energy.

  2. Coal is generally burned to create energy.

  3. Coal is generally crushed to create energy.

  4. Coal is generally combined with chemicals to creat energy.

The correct answer is b. Generally coal is burned to create energy. In a coal fired power plant, coal is burned to heat water to create steam. The steam flows into a turbine at high pressure and spins a generator to create electricity. The steam is cooled (with lots of energy losses) and the condensation returns to the boiler to begin the process again.

coal-fired power plant

See, http://www.tva.gov/power/coalart.htm

  1. Name two health, safety, or environmental dangers posed by underground coal mining?

Many dangers are posed by coal extraction. Dangers to human health and safety include mine shaft collapses that can injure or kill workers in coal mines. Underground mining may cause black lung disease, which is caused by breathing the coal dust in the mine.

Methane gas, which is present in coal mines, may cause asphyxiation and explosions if it is not properly ventilated in coal mines. Methane gas explosions have been responsible for many coal mining fatalities. Environmental dangers include acid mine drainage and subsidence, or the movement of the ground surface as a result of readjustments of the overburden due to collapse or failure of underground mine workings.

[More statistics?]


  1. Which of the following pollutants are released when coal is used to create energy?

  1. Sulfur dioxide

  2. Nitrogen oxide

  3. Mercury

  4. All of the above

  5. None of the above

The correct answer is d. When coal is burned, many emissions that pollute the environment are released. Coal combustion results emits:

  1. Sulfur dioxide (SO2), which contributes to acid rain and respiratory illnesses

  2. Nitrogen oxides (NOx), which contributes to smog and respiratory illnesses

  3. Particulates, which contribute to smog, haze, and respiratory illnesses and lung disease

  4. Carbon dioxide (CO2), which is the primary greenhouse gas emission from the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas)

  5. Mercury and other heavy metals, which has been linked with both neurological and developmental damage in humans and other animals.

http://205.254.135.24/kids/energy.cfm?page=coal_home-basics

[more statistics?]



  1. True/False: The environmental impacts of using coal as a source of energy can be reduced.

True. Some of the methods for reducing the environmental damage caused by coal include “coal washing” which removes unwanted minerals from the coal before the coal is burned.

Another method is using wet scrubbers, or flue gas desulfurization systems, to remove sulfur dioxide, a major cause of acid rain, by spraying flue gas with limestone and water. [what happens to residue?]

Low-NOx (nitrogen oxide) burners are a method used to reduce the creation of nitrogen oxides, a cause of ground-level ozone, by restricting oxygen and manipulating the combustion process. Electrostatic precipitators remove particulates by charging particles with an electrical field and then capturing them on collection plates. [and the residue?]

Coal gasification harnesses coals energy without burning the coal. Steam and hot pressurized air or oxygen combine with coal in a reaction that forces carbon molecules apart. The resulting mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen [what?] is then cleaned and burned in a gas turbine to make electricity. The heat energy from the gas turbine also powers a steam turbine.

In order to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere by burning coal, current research is focused on methods to capture and store the carbon dioxide that is released.


  1. Clean coal” refers to:

  1. Coal primarily found in the western U.S. that releases less carbon into the atmosphere.

  2. Coal that has been ground into powder before it is burned.

  3. Coal liquefaction which produces synthetic liquid fuels.

  4. Coal whose carbon byproduct is captured and stored to prevent it from polluting the atmosphere.

The correct answer is d. While “clean coal technology” may refer to any of the methods described in the answer to #5 above to reduce the environmental impact of burning coal on the environment, the term is commonly used today to refer to “carbon capture and storage” technology. The graphic below depicts the capture of carbon dioxide released when coal is burned, followed by compressing the carbon dioxide and pumping it thousands of feet below the earth’s surface, where it is stored in geologic formations.

http://www.futuregenalliance.org/futuregen-2-0-project/carbon-capture-and-storage/



http://www.futuregenalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/ccs-ill-lg.jpg

  1. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Energy committed ______________ to build FutureGen, a clean coal project.

  1. $10 million

  2. $100 million

  3. $1 billion

  4. $10 billion

The correct answer is c. In 2010, the Department of Energy committed $1 billion to the FutureGen project. The graphic above depicts the proposed carbon capture and storage facility.

  1. How much of America’s electricity is generated by coal?

  1. 45%

  2. 14%

  3. 86%

  4. 62%

The correct answer is a. Coal is used to generate approximately 45% of the electricity in America.

us net generation by source - jan. 2010 - aug. 2010

Statistics are also available from the U.S. Energy Information Administration that break down each states energy consumption.



  1. Where is the most coal extracted in the United States?

a. Colorado

b. West Virginia

c. New York

d. Wyoming

The correct answer is d. Wyoming produces 41% of coal produced in the United States. Eight of the top ten producing mines in the U.S. are located in Wyoming. West Virginia is second, producing 12%. Coal is mined is 26 states, producing 1,085.3 million short tons of coal. The three regions where coal is found are the Appalachian Coal region, the Interior Coal Region, and the Western Coal Region.



http://205.254.135.7/energyexplained/images/charts/coal_production_by_region_map-large.jpg

http://205.254.135.7/energyexplained/images/charts/coal_prod_top_states-large.gif

http://205.254.135.7/energyexplained/index.cfm?page=coal_where

  1. Where is the most coal used in the United States?

  1. Wyoming

  2. Texas

  3. New York

  4. West Virginia

The correct answer is b. Texas consumes the most at 100,000 thousand short tons of coal, followed by Illinois, which consumes 62,000 thousand short tons of coal. North Carolina ranks 12th in coal consumption in the United States. Only two states in the U.S. do not consume coal: Vermont and Rhode Island. To see how other states rank click here.

  1. True/False: The United States has the largest proven coal reserves?

True. The United States has the largest proven coal reserves in the world, with an estimated 27.5% of world coal reserves, followed by Russia, with approximately 18.3%, and China, with 13.3%. Coal resources are widely available in other countries. See, Fred Bosselman et. al., Energy, Economics and the Environment: Cases and Materials 173 (3rd ed. 2010).



graph of global share of recoverable coal reserves, as described in the article text

http://205.254.135.24/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=2930



  1. Which country produced the most coal in 2010?

  1. China

  2. Colombia

  3. United States

  4. India



  1. The correct answer is a. In 2010, China produced 45% of the world’s coal, over three times the amount produced by the second largest producer, the U.S.

graph of global coal production shares, 2010, as described in the article text

While production of coal worldwide has risen, the top coal producers have remained relatively consistent since 2000. See the graph below.



http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/images/2011.10.04/coalproductionnations.png

http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=3350



  1. Choose the correct statement:

  1. U.S. coal exports have risen sharply in the last decade.

  2. U.S. coal exports have risen slightly in the last decade.

  3. U.S. coal exports have remained stable during the last decade.

  4. U.S. coal exports have declined slightly in the last decade.

  5. U.S. coal exports have declined sharply in the last decade.

The correct answer is e. U.S. coal exports have declined sharply in the last decade. The U.S. exported only about 59 million short tons in 2009, which is significantly less than the export levels of the late 20th century. Since coal is widely available in other countries, the export market is likely to be limited to high-quality grades of coal. See, Fred Bosselman et. al., Energy, Economics and the Environment: Cases and Materials 173 (3rd ed. 2010). The country to which the U.S. exported the most coal in 2010 was Canada, making up 14% of exports.

  1. True/False: Because coal is so abundant in the United States, the U.S. does not import coal from other countries.

False. While imports make up only a small portion of the coal used in the United States, the U.S. does import coal. In 2010, the U.S. imported the most coal from Colombia, South America.

coal flow diagram image

http://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/annual/diagram4.cfm



  1. Which of the following is a false statement:

  1. It costs more to build a nuclear power plant than a coal power plant.

  2. Solar power plants are the most expensive power plants to build.

  3. Wind power plants cost less to build than coal power plants.

  4. The cost of building coal power plants has risen in the past 5 years.

The correct answer is c. [as of when?] Coal plants cost less to build than wind power plants. The chart below compares the cost of constructing different types of power generation facilities, as well as the production cost of running those facilities. As you can see from the graph below, a. is incorrect because it is a true statement that a nuclear power facility costs more to build than a coal power plant. B. is also incorrect because it is true that solar power facilities are the most expensive to build. D. is incorrect because the cost of building coal power facilities has risen in the past 5 years.

total cost of electricity production per kwh

  1. True/False: Today coal is primarily extracted via underground mining in the United States.

False. Although historically coal was mined primarily via underground mining, over time coal mining has shifted from underground mining in the Eastern U.S. to surface mining in the Western U.S. See, Fred Bosselman et. al., Energy, Economics and the Environment: Cases and Materials 173 (3rd ed. 2010). Today, about 60-70% of coal mined in the U.S. is extracted via surface mining. See, id. at 180 (“About three-fifths of the coal mined in the United States is currently mined by surface mining…). See also, http://www.worldcoal.org/coal/coal-mining/. (“[I]n the USA [surface mining] is used for about 67% of production.)

  1. Mountaintop removal mining is controversial because:

  1. The topography of the area is permanently altered

  2. Headwater streams are buried and/or polluted

  3. Birth defects are higher in communities near these mines

  4. All of the above

The correct answer is d. Mountaintop removal mining is a term used to describe a form of surface mining in which the soil and rock on top of a mountain is blasted away with explosives to reveal the coal deposits beneath. This practice is controversial because the topography of the landscape is permanently altered. Even though mining companies are required to return the mined area to its previous state as much as possible, large portions of the blasted rock and soil (“overburden”) cannot be replaced in a stable manner. Because this overburden cannot be returned to its previous location, it creates “valley fill.” The EPA estimates that mountaintop removal valley fills are responsible for burying and polluting nearly 2,000 miles of headwater streams. Further, the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act does not require coal companies to reforest land as part of the required reclamation. Therefore, many types of plants and wildlife have their habitat destroyed. Finally, studies have found “significantly higher” instances of birth defects in areas located near mountaintop removal mines. 

  1. True/False: Coal production is on the decline.

False. See the graph in question 12, above. Coal production increased from 890 million tons in 1986 to 1111 million tons in 2004, even as the total number of mines decreased. See, Fred Bosselman et. al., Energy, Economics and the Environment: Cases and Materials 173 (3rd ed. 2010). [more recent since fracking?]

  1. True/False: The owner of the surface of land always owns the rights to the coal beneath the surface of land.

False. While a surface owner may own the rights to the minerals beneath the surface, this is not necessarily always true. American law incorporated the English common law notion that the owner of the surface of land also owned the right to the minerals beneath the surface, however, it allowed the “mineral rights” to be severed from the surface of the land. This concept can create legal difficulties when the owner of the mineral rights infringes on the rights of the surface owner when extracting the minerals. See, Fred Bosselman et. al., Energy, Economics and the Environment: Cases and Materials 200 (3rd ed. 2010). [what kinds of difficulties?]

  1. True/False: Coal is one of the most regulated industries in America.

True. Because of all of the dangers and externalities stemming from the coal industry, the coal industry is one of the most heavily regulated industries in the United States. See, Fred Bosselman et. al., Energy, Economics and the Environment: Cases and Materials 168 (3rd ed. 2010). The coal industry is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, which promulgates clean air and water regulations. It is also subject to regulations promulgated by the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Also many mining states have their own regulations of mining and environmental effects. [too generic? What kinds of regulation?]

  1. More than ______________ acres of mined lands have been reclaimed in the past 20 years?

  1. 1 million

  2. 2 million

  3. 3 million

  4. 4 million

The correct answer is b. The coal industry has estimated that more than two million acres of mined lands have been reclaimed in the past 20 years. Reclamation involves 4 steps: 1) leveling off fill soil with bulldozers, 2) placing topsoil over the graded area, 3) reseeding the area, and 4) monitoring the area to ensure that the reclamation has succeeded. See, Fred Bosselman et. al., Energy, Economics and the Environment: Cases and Materials 197 (3rd ed. 2010). [but this is not true return to “before”]

  1. At current production rates, there are proven coal reserves to last approximately:

  1. 53 years

  2. 542 years

  3. 118 years

  4. 278 years

The correct answer is c. There are approximately 847 billion tons of proven coal reserves worldwide. [source?] This means that there is enough coal to last about 118 years at current rates of production. In contrast, proven oil and gas reserves are equivalent to around 46 and 59 years at current production levels.

  1. Who exercises permitting jurisdiction over the deposit of fill (aka “overburden”) into wetlands by mining companies?

  1. The Army Corps of Engineers

  2. The Environmental Protection Agency

  3. The Secretary of the Interior

  4. The Office of Surface Mining

The correct answer is a. The Army Corps of Engineers exercises permitting jurisdiction over the deposit of fill into wetlands and has traditionally granted approval for these activities under Nationwide Permit 21 (“NWP 21”). This practice has been challenged as inconsistent with the Clean Water Act, but all challenges have failed. However, on July 15, 2009, the Army Corp of Engineers proposed changes to NWP 21 to prohibit its use to authorize its use to authorize discharges of fill material into waters of the United States for surface mining in six states in the Appalachian Region. On June 17, 2010, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suspended the use of NWP 21 for mountaintop removal mining operations in the southern Appalachian region. This suspension will remain in effect until the Corps takes further action on NWP 21, or until the permit expires on March 18, 2012. [how long do permits last?]

  1. True/False: More Americans are employed in the wind industry than in the coal industry?

True. In 2008, wind industry jobs increased by 70% to 85,000. The coal industry employs approximately 81,000 Americans. Therefore, wind industry jobs have surpassed coal industry jobs in the United States. Employment in the coal industry has declined by almost 50% since 1986, larely due to the switch to larger-scale, higher technology mining. See, Fred Bosselman et. al., Energy, Economics and the Environment: Cases and Materials 173 (3rd ed. 2010). [primary source for information?]



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