Report: Coal export in the Northwest holds heavy CO2 emissions potential

A new report aims to quantify the carbon dioxide emissions from different global energy projects — including the push to export U.S. coal through the Pacific Northwest.

A new report aims to quantify the carbon dioxide emissions from different global energy projects — including the push to export U.S. coal through the Pacific Northwest. 

A report commissioned by Greenpeace ranked the global energy projects by their potential to impact the climate with carbon dioxide emissions by 2020 — plans for coal export facilities in the Pacific Northwest ranked in fifth place, tied with new Iraqi oil production and the tar sands extraction projects in Canada.

Ecofys, a global clean energy research and consulting firm with U.S. headquarters in Corvallis, found that the operation of new export facilities in the Northwest would result in an additional 420 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2020. The assumptions supporting that figure are that the coal being exported is newly mined coal from the Powder River Basin and that the export facilities — there are a half-dozen in the works at various stages of permitting and approval — are operating at their planned capacity.

The highest impact global energy projects include:

  • Expanded coal production in China's western provinces, expected to add an additional 1.4 billion metric tons in CO2 emissions.
  • Additional coal production in Australia, projected to clock in with 760 million million metric tons.
  • Arctic drilling for oil and gas projected to hit an additional 4250 million metric tons of CO2 emissions by 2020.


The full report is available online.

The report is based on the idea that the world has a limited carbon budget it can use and still avoid accentuated climate change. Activists like Bill McKibben point out — as he did in his visit last year to Portland and in a much-referenced Rolling Stone article — that the math balancing what fossil fuel companies want to develop and what science shows the climate can handle.

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