Saturday, March 28, 2009
Alaska: Coal, first and last choice?
This year marks the 150th year anniversary of when Colonel Edwin Drake first extracted crude oil from underground reservoirs in Titusville, Pennsylvania. It also marks the 300th anniversary of when British inventor Abraham Darby invented the process to make choke. Choke is a charcoal- like fuel that is made from coal and can be used in the creating of steal, becoming an important substance during the industrial revolution. Although no one imagined it would still have the impact it does today, it still has a strong influence within many cultures, specifically Alaskan.
The technology of oil and coal influenced Alaska and its energy-based economy up to present day. Many state that they would have thought that by now some sort of nuclear fusion or some sort of advanced technology energy field could fuel flying cars off of its substance and would have surpassed the use and capability that coal and oil still have today.
During these anniversaries it just so happens that societies everywhere are facing an energy dilemma: should the global economy try to substitute natural gas and nuclear power for oil or just “simply” use coal? A quick natural gas solution for Fairbanks is to truck liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the North Slope. This process proves to be expensive and without state funding it might not happen. There are those that are looking for natural gas in the Nenana basin and do not want the state to help because there will be a competition with their own natural gas. This leaves individuals still waiting for an answer or results. Another solution that was suggested is piping natural gas through an in-state gas bullet line. This way the bullet line could supply those that are in the interior with enough natural gas to allow the interior to use compressed natural gas cars instead of gasoline cars. The issue proves to be the delay until the bullet line can be instated, which would be not till 2016 or later, which happens to be just as long as Nenana might take. Because of this time crunch, that leaves interior Alaska with a heating predicament and the final resort: coal.
Considering the issue of going green and global warming, few people like the idea of, or even the concept of discussing, or using coal specifically in the form of backyard coal boilers. Coal, when burned, produces the most carbon dioxide which contributes to the global warming issue and provides few sulfur pollutants. Oil is becoming scarce and as a result the price is beginning to rise to extreme heights.
Alaska, Fairbanks specifically, is right up front in terms of being exposed to the world’s energy turmoil. There are very few solutions, and even fewer that Alaskans are willing to use. Wood stoves might require the clear cutting of the states natural scenery to provide the Interiors 30,000 households with enough heat through he strict winters. Coal-to liquids would be costly and take far to long time implement, 2016 to long. Geothermal heat pump systems on individual houses are subject to freeze ups.
The way politics and the capitalist markets are playing out Interior Alaskan residents are going to have to make a choice. Considering the situation, they might be socially forced to make a choice between paying the very high and non-eco friendly way to heat their house while they wait a very long time until natural gas becomes locally available or switching to burning coal; the3 natural product that emits the highest levels of Carbon Dioxide.
Considering how long you have lived in Interior Alaska what choices do you feel you are being forced to accept? How much stronger of an impact does this situation have on us in Alaska as opposed to those that live in the lower 48? Consider the bullet line, would this help or hinder our social predicament? Spend some time reflecting on coal and how it affects our environment. What sort of impact will it have on society if we do/do not chose to use it?
photo of Seward from http://www.rbca-alaska.org/images/coal-dust.jpg