oh boy,I'll try and answer what I can...
madrmc wrote:Aren't there 700 billion tons in the ground but only 70 billion are recoverable?
I don't know what the figures are, I'm sure if you searched around you'd be able to find them.
Isn't is true that basically two families own the hard coal in the ground?
Again I don't know, it's possible that two families control the rights for a large percentage of the mines but I really have no knowledge of this. I do know there are many mines owned by many different entities.
Isn't mining the anthracite more dangerous and difficult, which may have created tougher regulations against mining, or did something else cause the drop in supply that I refer to below?
From my understanding no, it would be the opposite. Anthracite provides a more stable environment. But to add to this I know they recently closed down many smaller anthracite mines trying to enforce regulations that are used in bituminous mines. Apparently a lot of these regulations are not needed and/or irrelevant as far as anthracite mining is concerned. As far as I know that is what caused the coal shortage last year south of here. Lack of raw product. These were all mine with just a few men working them but apparently there was quite a lot of them.
As far as production goes I can only tell you what I see, I see a processing plant working as much as possible where I'm purchasing it. For the longest time they were working 10 hour days then 4 on fri. they are working a full Friday. I don't see any slow down in production. Currently they are making it as fast as they can.
The question is when (yes WHEN not IF) will natural gas or oil become more economical than hard coal to heat a home (Remember in '98 oil was probably most economical/BTU).
That's not going to happen, the price of oil and gas is going no where but up. Coal may go higher but it will still be cheaper than anything else. FYI oil was never cheaper than coal, ever. Even if it was $.75 per gallon it would still be equivalent to spending $130 to $150. Also keep in mind locally coal was below $100 per ton back in 98. If I remember correctly it was in the $90 range. Maybe less. So even at it's cheapest point it was still as much as 50% more.
There is more than enough natural gas and oil to go around the price just has to go higher and stay higher for capitalism to "get it out of the ground". All these estimates about when we'll run out of oil lack precision because higher prices will result in more oil and less demand, and the volatile prices we have seen.
Doesn't matter how much money you throw at it, you can't pump what's not there. There is a finite amount, slide 20 on the link above has a graph. There's 3 USGS listings. 1 for proven, 1 for what they expect, and one for what could possibly be in the best case scenario. there's also a few other recent estimations. None exceed what the USGS predicts. I don't see a fall in the demand for oil, do you realize how much oil is a part of our lives? Look around where your sitting, everything you see that contains plastic could not be made without oil, at least in it's present form. I saw a chemist discussing this once and I quote " If I had to make bicycle helmet without using oil I couldn't do it"
In addition you have other growing economies like China who are also creating a great demand.
So $375/ton is about breakeven, although at a price below that the hassel of dealing with coal isn't worth it.
Maybe for you but I'm sure others would disagree. If your using 5 tons of coal that's a savings of $1125, in your case. If you use a figure of $2.50 a gallon for a oil delivery the difference is quite a bit more. If you follow the guidelines the energy department provides it's as high as $1750 on staight BTU for BTU comparison. That is a unfair comparison but many customers will realize a savings of about $1500 with 5 tons. That's what my average customers uses. I have customers who burn in excess of 20 tons a year. $4500 to $6000 is not chump change.
or oil will be substituted for something else
I wouldn't doubt if in 20 30 years you don't see people burning any fossil fuels for heat at all. There's two many possibilities. We don't really need to, what we need is someone to step up to the plate and invest in alternate resources.... imagine the endless supply of energy if they simply harnessed the ocean currents. something will evolve eventually but they need to start now.