SHERIDAN — Experts have a positive outlook on the coal industry and say even with a push for clean energy, the natural resource is not going anywhere as an energy source.
“Coal is going to be a dominant source of energy as far as the eye can see,” said Cloud Peak Energy senior manager of government affairs Todd O’Hair during a panel at Sheridan College Wednesday night.
The panel followed a talk on energy markets by Atlantic Council Global Energy Center nonresident senior fellow Dr. Robert F. Ichord Jr. Ichord has been involved with U.S. international energy policy for more than 40 years and has served with the U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. Department of State.
Other panelists included University of Wyoming Carbon Management Institute director Kipp Coddington and UW Ruckelshaus Institute collaboration program in natural resources director Jessica Western.
Wyoming and the U.S. produced more coal in the first half of 2017 than in the first half of 2016.
Exports have also shot up, Ichord said. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that from April 2016 to June 2016 the U.S. exported 14,223,405 short tons of coal while from April 2017 to June 2017 it exported 21,796,403 short tons.
Additionally, Cloud Peak Energy’s Spring Creek Mine, which is located about 35 miles north of Sheridan in Montana, but employs primarily from Sheridan, ships about 5 million tons of coal to South Korea, as well as millions more to customers in the U.S.
While moves from President Donald Trump’s administration lean toward supporting the coal industry — for example withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement earlier this year and this month’s proposal to repeal the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan — Coddington said he thinks there’s little the Trump administration can do to change state and private sector policies regarding climate change that are already in effect.
However, when it comes to climate change, Coddington said the solution doesn’t lie in other forms of energy. The solution lies in technology, and Wyoming, with its attitude, resources and policymakers, is in perfect position to take on this challenge.
“Fossil fuels have met every single environmental challenge that has been put in front of them in terms of water emissions, air emissions,” Coddington said. “And I don’t know why greenhouse gas emissions won’t just be the next issue that technology will solve.”
To maximize the benefits of coal at a local level, Western said companies need to think in terms of social license, or a society’s or community’s acceptance or approval of an operation, as well as in terms of collaboration.
Social licensing is gaining ground in the energy sector. She said they found three examples of companies in Colorado that have acquired memorandums of understanding with communities.
This is in relation to private lands. When it comes to public lands, which have an additional regulatory framework, the National Environmental Policy Act presents opportunities for collaboration, which she said expedites processes, despite some agencies’ positions that it creates inefficiencies.
“Will we see more collaboration in the energy sector?” Western asked. “Possibly, maybe only when social license becomes a necessary condition for operation, hopefully it doesn’t have to get to that point.”