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Potential CO2 Emissions of the Susitna-Beluga Coalfield

Last Modified: 7th February 2015

The Susitna-Beluga Coal Leases

 

The Susitna-Beluga coal field is a large coal field located on the west side of Cook Inlet.  The mining company PacRim holds leases in Susitna-Beluga, and has proposed a massive coal mine dubbed the Chuitna Coal Project in its LMU1 lease.  Further information on the field and project can be found in our dedicated article.  The Barrick leases are another set of large leases in the Susitna-Beluga, near the PacRim leases.

Carbon Dioxide Potential of Susitna-Beluga Coal

 

This article uses precise coal terminology.

Burning the proven coal reserves in the PacRim coal leases (including the proposed location of the Chuitna Coal Project, in the LMU1 lease) would release 1.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide – roughly equal to the annual emissions of Russia, the world’s 5th most carbon-intensive nation.  It would also be equal to the carbon emissions of all U.S. transportation activities in a typical year.  

Comparison of Carbon Dioxide Emissions (Metric Tons)

Emissions Source Carbon Dioxide Data Source
 State of Alaska, 1 year of emissions 38 million EIA
 Emissions for 25 years of Pebble Mine operations 50+ million Article
 Lifecycle emissions for 1 years’ worth of oil sands through Keystone XL 160 million Report.
 Burning all proven LMU1 (Chuitna Coal Project) coal reserves 650 million See Below
 Burning 50 Years of Chuitna Coal Project proposed production 1,250 million Calculated
 1 Year of All U.S. Transportation Emissions   1,500 million EPA
 Burning the entire PacRim coal reserves 1,600 million See Below
 Russia’s Annual Emissions (#5 in world)   1,700 million Wikipedia
 Burning the entire PacRim + Barrick “reserves”* 3,900 million See Below
 European Union’s Annual Emissions (#3 in world)   3,700 million Wikipedia
 US Annual Emissions (#2 in world) 5,400 million Wikipedia
 50 Years of Keystone XL oil (lifecyle emissions) 8,000 million Calculated
 China’s Annual Emissions (#1 in world)   8,300 million Wikipedia
 Burning all the oil under Prudhoe Bay (24 billion barrels)** 10,000 million BP
 Burning the global coal production for 2010 17,000 million Article
 World CO2 emissions    31,000 million Wikipedia
 Burning the entire Susitna-Beluga coal field (resource) 87,000 million See Below
 Burning the entire Powder River Basin coalfield (resource) 374,000+ million USGS
 Burning All Alaska’s Recoverable Coal Resource 1,000,000 million Article

*Estimated Barrick “reserves.”  These numbers are speculative (see methods), and therefore this is not technically reserves.  It might be more properly referred to as identified resource.  Barrick is believed to have a large amount of accessible coal, but is very poorly explorted.

**Prudhoe Bay numbers do not include satellite fields, which contain another estimated 5 billion barrels.

 

The total quantity of coal in Susitna-Beluga coal field is believed to be much larger than the 771 million tons of proven reserves which underlie PacRim’s leases.  The USGS estimates the field contains 10 billion tons of identified coal resource, and another 31.5 billion tons of hypothetical coal resource.  The total coal field, if burned, could release 86 billion tons of CO2 – equal to 3 years of global carbon emissions, to burning all the oil under Prudhoe Bay 90 times over, or operating the world’s total automobile fleet for 18 years.  

Although even in a coal-intensive future some of this resource would probably never be economical to mine, intensive mining could produce far more coal than is identified as reserves.  "Reserves" refers only to coal explored in high detail and certainty, not to the full extent of coal which can probably be mined.

Carbon Dioxide Potential of Selected Alaska Coal Projects

Mine / Proposal Coal Stocks (tons CO2 Potential (tons
 Usibelli Mine Reserves 700 million (Reserves) 1,440 million
 Wishbone Hill Proposal 14.4 million (Reserves) 30 million
 Susitna-Beluga Coalfield: PacRim LMU1 Lease 300 million (Reserves) 615 million
 Susitna-Beluga Coalfield: Other Pacrim Leases 471 million (Reserves) 966 million
 Barrick Leases 655 million (Est. Reserves)* 1,340 million
 Total Susitna-Beluga Identified Resource 10,000 million (Resource) 20,500 million
 Total Sustina-Beluga Hypothetical Resource 31,500 million (Resource) 64,500 million
 Total Sustina-Beluga Coal Field 42,000 million (Reserves + Resource) 86,000 million
*See Methods section for an explanation of the Barrick reserves estimation.

Emissions Potential of Mined Coal ("Production")

Actual annual emissions would depend on the rate at which Chuitna’s coal was mined and burned.  If mine production reached 12 million tons per year (as PacRim has proposed for the Chuitna Coal Project, in the LMU1 portion of their leases), this coal would release 25 million tons of carbon dioxide per, roughly equivalent to Alaska’s statewide annual emissions.     

Annual Coal Production & Carbon Emissions

 Mine/ Carbon Source Annual Production Carbon Dioxide Emissions Data Source
 Usibelli Coal Mine (Active) 2 million tons* 4 million tons Usibelli
 Wishbone Hill Coal Mine (Proposed) 0.5 million tons 1 million tons Usibelli
 Chuitna Coal Project (Proposed  12 million tons 25 million tons DRven
 Prudhoe Bay Oil 200,000 barrels 0.09 million tons EIA
 Alaska Yearly State Emissions N/A 38 million tons EIA
 Keystone XL incremental** N/A 1.3 to 27.4 million tons Report
 1 years’ worth of oil sands through Keystone XL 303 million barrels 160 million Report
*Usibelli Mine's production varies year-to-year, and is approximated to 2 million tons.
**Incremental emissions are those which would not be produced, if denial of building the Keystone XL pipeline reduced total oil sands production by the amount Keystone XL would transport (~830,000 barrels per day). State department analysis suggests this would not occur, and this volume of oil sands product would instead be moved by rail or other transport projects.

Method for Estimating Carbon Emissions

 

Estimating coal production and carbon emissions from proposed coal mines is difficult because coal exploration in Alaska is very incomplete.  For these estimates, we have taken proven reserves numbers, and extrapolated to Barrick using PacRim’s plausible identified resource.Carbon dioxide emissions per short ton of coal are estimated using the EPA’s universal CO2-to-coal ratio of 2.05:1.

In actuality, emissions/ton will vary with coal composition, as will consumption rate of coal to produce a given amount of energy.  Both ratios move together, since carbon dioxide output and energy output are both a function of coal carbon content.  Lower-grade, more moist coal (which is characteristic of Alaska) must be burned in larger volumes to achieve the same energy outputs as higher-grade coal, absorbs a greater amount of energy evaporating its own water content, and thus produces more carbon dioxide per unit of energy produced.  

There is large uncertainty about how much coal is contained within active leases in the Susitna-Beluga Coalfield.  Outside of the well-studied LMU1 lease, PacRim and DNR statements about the coal potential of the leases are of uncertain accuracy.

Non-Susitna-Beluga Coal

 

Usibelli Mine: Usibelli Mine is provided as a benchmark for carbon potential of the proposed mines.  Usibelli is Alaska’s only active coal mine.  Usbelli’s reserves are taken from Usibelli Coal Mine, Inc.’s website.

Wishbone Hill: Usibelli Coal Mine, Inc.’s statement of Wishbone Hill’s reserves is used.  

Susitna-Beluga Coal

 

PacRim LMU1: LMU1 is a subsection of the PacRim leases in the Susitna-Beluga coalfield.  It is well-studied, and has an estimated 300 million tons of proven reserves.  LMU1 is the proposed site of the Chuitna open pit coal mine.

PacRim Other Leases: An additional 471 million tons of reserves are proven in PacRim’s leases surrounding LMU1.  This is derived by subtracting PacRim's LMU1 reserves from their total reported lease reserves.  PacRim further estimates a total of 1,000 million tons of “resource position” in its Chuitna leases.  The term “resource position” does not conform to standard coal terminology, and therefore is difficult to interpret.  Based on local geology and the size of the LMU1 reserves (300 million tons), we interpret the “resource position” estimate as the identified resource in PacRim’s total Susitna-Beluga leases. 

Barrick: Very little is known about the Barrick coal.  We estimated the Barrick resource by applying the same proportion of coal/acre as in the adjoining PacRim lease, based on PacRim’s “resource position” there.  Our estimate of 850 million tons is therefore speculative, but plausible.

The carbon potential of Alaska's state-wide coal resources is located in our article on Alaska Coal and Carbon Dioxide Emissions

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By Andrew MattoxDavid CoilBretwood HigmanGround Truth Trekking

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Date Created: 21st April 2014