Coal and the Present Energy Situation

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Science  08 Feb 1974:
Vol. 183, Issue 4124, pp. 477-481
DOI: 10.1126/science.183.4124.477


To summarize, we must make greater use of coal, an energy resource that the nation has in great abundance, if we are to approach our former position of self-sufficiency in energy production.

The first step is to move immediately to replace the oil and gas used in electric generating plants with coal and to require that coal be used in fossil fuel electric plants planned or under construction in the next few years. The technology to remove sulfur and particulates from the stack gases is at hand, and therefore environmental regulations can be met.

Producing and transporting the required increased tonnages of coal are problems that can be met with appropriate incentives to the coal and transportation industries. Improved mining technology would be helpful but is not a requiremlent.

Oil and gas from coal should be in significant commercial production in about a decade. Underground, or in situ, gasification of coal, now in field tests, looks promising as a practical process for recovering the energy from coal, especially in deep or thick beds that cannot be mined efficiently.

Recoverable methane occurs in coal beds in the United States in an amount approximately equal to the total reserves of natural gas—about 260 trillion cubic feet. This large reserve of natural gas should be exploited as quickly as possible. Only minor investments in exploration and modest advances in technology are required.

Finally, as coal production is expanded. adequate planning and the most modern technology should be used to ensure that coal is extracted with maximum recovery and with minimum damage to the environment.