The Energy Watch Group in Germany is set to release a report that concludes that the world's minable coal reserves are smaller than commonly thought and that a peak in world coal production may occur within ten to fifteen years.
Report authors Werner Zittel and Jorg Schindler cite the unreliability of reserve data. Just as OPEC countries have kept their proven oil reserves artificially high, major coal producers have failed to update their data to reflect consumption. Since 1986 most nations with significant coal reserves that have made the effort to update their reserve estimates have reported significant downward revisions. Among the most extreme, Germany and Great Britain downgraded their reserves by 90%.
Further complicating the picture is the fact that high quality coal--bituminous and anthracite--have been the most heavily mined. The U.S. has the world's largest reserves and is second in production, behind China. The U.S. has already passed its peak production of high quality coal. Growing production of sub-bituminous coal has kept total production growing. However, total energy content of the coal mined in the U.S. has declined since 1998.
Since coal has been the U.S.'s most often stated energy fall back--even if environmentally undesirable--this new analysis is deeply disturbing and highlights again the need to plan for a lower energy future.