Bad News: Scientists Make Cheap Gas from Coal

This funny headline is the title of a column in the March 26 issue of Wired Science.

“Scientists have devised a new way to transform coal into gas for your car using far less energy than the current [Fisher-Tropsche] process,” Wired reports. “The advance makes scaling up the environmentally unfriendly fuel more economical than greener alternatives.”

Now, you might think that inexpensive motor fuel is a good thing, especially in these times of financial peril, fiscal chaos, and high unemployment. In addition, since America is the “Saudi Arabia of coal,” conversion of coal to motor fuel, provided it is economical and market-driven, could enhance U.S. energy security.

So why is this “bad news”? Because coal-derived fuel “could produce twice as much CO2 [carbon dioxide] as traditional petroleum fuels and at best will still emit at least as much of the greenhouse gas.” Consequently, what these scientists are proposing to do “is simply not allowable if we want to avoid the perils of unconstrained anthropogenic climate change,” declares Pushker Karecha of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Okay, then how about some candor in the energy policy debate? Climate activists claim repeatedly that their agenda will benefit consumers and achieve real energy security. How? By jump-starting a “beyond petroleum” economy, which will free consumers forever from pain at the pump and relegate OPEC to the dustbin of history.

But this deliberately confuses the green solar-hydrogen utopia, which may never materialize, or which may come about only after technological breakthroughs nobody today can plan or predict, with the restrictions, burdens, and penalties climate activists mean to impose on us today and for the foreseeable future.

If OPEC is a problem because it restricts oil supply to drive up price, how is cap-and-trade, which also–and by design–inflates motor fuel costs, a solution? If dependence on oil supplies from unstable or hostile foreign countries is a problem, how is banning domestic oil production in Alaska, the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, and the deep waters off the U.S. East and West Coasts, a solution?

Again, if volatile motor fuel prices and dependence on Mideast oil are problems, how is restricting imports of oil from Canadian tar sands a solution? And how, pray tell, is blocking development of unconventional motor fuel from Rocky Mountain oil shale or West Virginia coal a solution?

If greenies believe global warming is so terrible that we must pay any energy price and make any sacrifice of energy security to combat it, fine. Plainly say so, and we can then debate whether or not global warming is the planetary doom they claim it is.

But candor demands that they immediately stop posturing as defenders of consumer welfare and energy security. Their policies lead straight to more pain at the pump and an America more at the mercy of events in unstable and unfriendly parts of the world.