Coal Tattoo

Friday roundup, Sept. 9, 2011

This undated photo provided by Westech shows a truck with Westech’s Flow Control Body holding 447 tons of coal at Peabody Energy’s North Antelope Rochelle coal mine, north of Douglas, Wyo. Guiness World Records recently awarded the body’s manufacturer, Mills-based Westech, a certificate for its custom-built unit designed for a Wyoming mine. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Westech via Casper Star-Tribune)

You can read more about what is apparently the world record load of coal here:

By any measure, it’s a big, big truck.

The truck can haul 447 tons of coal. That’s enough coal to fill more than 4 1/2 railroad cars. That’s enough coal to fill an average-sized house from floor to ceiling. That’s enough coal to fuel a power plant for an entire day.

And now, Guinness World Records recognizes the three-story truck’s ability to haul that much coal.

While the huge haul truck is a standard but still large design, its custom-built body —the tipping back portion of the truck that carries the coal — is what got Guinness’ attention.

From China this week, we have more bad news:

The bodies of two more miners trapped in a flooded coal mine in Northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province over two weeks ago have been recovered, bringing the death toll to three, said rescuers Thursday.

While in New Zealand, there’s news on the investigation of the Pike River Mine Disaster that might sound familiar to folks who have followed the story of the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster:

Pike River survivor Daniel Rockhouse failed to share his safety concerns with his father, because he feared it would ruin his career.

Former Pike River coal mine safety and training manager Neville Rockhouse has today resumed giving evidence at the royal commission of inquiry into the November 2010 disaster, in which 29 men were killed.

His son Daniel Rockhouse is one of only two men to survive the mine explosions. His younger son Ben Rockhouse, 21, did not survive.

Under cross-examination by Nigel Hampton, lawyer for the Engineering Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU), Rockhouse said he now knew the men working underground had safety concerns that were not reaching him.

“My son and I had a rather large argument over it because I was very upset that there were unsafe acts and unsafe practices occurring underground and he didn’t come and tell me, or felt peer pressured not to do that.”

Closer to home, Jim Carroll of the Courier-Journal offered this take on the MSHA proposal to require proximity detection devices in underground coal mines:

Bobby Smith Jr. was an experienced miner, with 12 years in the industry, but on June 24, 2010, he was killed when he was pinned by a mining machine he was operating in Perry County.

Smith, 29, was cleaning up loose coal on the floor of Leeco Inc.’s No. 68 mine, using what is known as a continuous-mining machine. Operating the machine by remote control, he got caught between the equipment and the mine wall and suffered fatal injuries.

Smith’s was one of two deaths in 2010, along with one so far this year, in which miners were struck, crushed or pinned by continuous-mining machines. Since 1984, 31 miners have been killed and 220 injured in such accidents, according to the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Now MSHA is proposing a new rule requiring that the machines — which by one estimate are used in 45 percent of underground U.S. coal production — carry devices to detect the presence of miners or other equipment and shut off when they are dangerously close.

In other coal-related news and commentary:

— After last night’s speech by President Obama, it’s worth looking back to see what New York Times economist and columnist Paul Krugman had to say about the president’s decision to personally block new air pollution standards for smog:

I’ve actually been avoiding thinking about the latest Obama cave-in, on ozone regulation; these repeated retreats are getting painful to watch. For what it’s worth, I think it’s bad politics. The Obama political people seem to think that their route to victory is to avoid doing anything that the GOP might attack — but the GOP will call Obama a socialist job-killer no matter what they do. Meanwhile, they just keep reinforcing the perception of mush from the wimp, of a president who doesn’t stand for anything.

And now you can see why tighter ozone regulation would actually have created jobs: it would have forced firms to spend on upgrading or replacing equipment, helping to boost demand. Yes, it would have cost money — but that’s the point! And with corporations sitting on lots of idle cash, the money spent would not, to any significant extent, come at the expense of other investment.

More broadly, if you’re going to do environmental investments — things that are worth doing even in flush times — it’s hard to think of a better time to do them than when the resources needed to make those investments would otherwise have been idle.

So, a lousy decision all around. Are you surprised?

— There’s been a flurry or discussion this week about more potential mergers in the coal industry, as explained here by Bloomberg:

Walter Energy Inc. (WLT), a producer of steelmaking coal in southern Appalachia, jumped as much as 30 percent after the London-based Times said Anglo American Plc (AAL) may be considering a takeover bid.

Anglo is said to be weighing a $120-a-share offer, the Times said in its market report without citing anyone. BHP Billiton Ltd. (BHP) is also interested in Walter, the Times said.

— The Duluth News Tribune had this interesting piece:

When Excelsior Energy launched its ambitious, clean energy project in 2001, the company touted it as a way to bring much-needed jobs and investment to the Iron Range at a time when local residents were still stinging from the closure of LTV Steel Mining Co. The innovative, state-of-the-art coal gasification plant also would enable the nation to more effectively tap domestic coal reserves with minimal harm to the environment.

But after nearly a decade and receiving more than $40 million in public money, Excelsior has little to show. While significant work has gone into developing site plans and engineering work and garnering permits, the company has yet to move a shovelful of dirt to build its would-be 2,000-megawatt, $2.1 billion power plant.

And despite receiving virtually all of its backing from the public trough, the company’s spending records, including its officers’ paychecks, remain under wraps.

— And Business Week reported:

American homes are more cluttered than ever with devices, and they all need power: Cellphones and iPads that have to be charged, DVRs that run all hours, TVs that light up in high definition.

But something shocking is happening to demand for electricity in the Age of the Gadget: It’s leveling off.

Over the next decade, experts expect residential power use to fall, reversing an upward trend that has been almost uninterrupted since Thomas Edison invented the modern light bulb.

— In case you’re wondering about all of this extreme weather the U.S. is experiencing, here’s what my friend Seth Borenstein, ace science writer for the AP, had to say:

The U.S. has had a record 10 weather catastrophes costing more than a billion dollars: five separate tornado outbreaks, two different major river floods in the Upper Midwest and the Mississippi River, drought in the Southwest and a blizzard that crippled the Midwest and Northeast, and Irene.

What’s happening, say experts, is mostly random chance or bad luck. But there is something more to it, many of them say. Man-made global warming is increasing the odds of getting a bad roll of the dice.

Finally, there was some discussion previously on Coal Tattoo about a scientific paper that was trumpeted by some as proof that global warming isn’t happening, or at least isn’t caused by human activity.

Well, it turns out the paper was so bad that the editor of the journal that published it resigned … And as The Daily Climate reported, two other papers have since been published which raised major questions about the initial work. Andrew Revkin from DotEarth had this to say about the situation:

I’ve long pointed out that anyone trumpeting a conclusion about greenhouse-driven climate change on the basis of a single paper should be treated with skepticism or outright suspicion. I trust climate science as an enterprise because — despite its flaws — it is a self-correcting process in which trajectory matters far more than individual steps in the road.

There is always a temptation, particularly for those with an agenda and for media in search of the “front-page thought,” to overemphasize studies that fit some template, no matter how tentative, or flawed.

The flood of celebratory coverage that followed publication of a recent paper by Roy Spencer and Danny Braswellproposing a big reduction in the sensitivity of the climate to greenhouse gases — was far more about pushing an agenda than providing guidance on the state of climate science.

And Sue Sturgis at Facing South reminded us of Roy Spencer’s ties to climate polluting industries:

A research scientist with the University of Alabama at Huntsville’s Earth System Science Center (ESSC), Roy Spencer is a climate contrarian with solid academic credentials. And his website bio notes that he “has never been asked by any oil company to perform any kind of service. Not even Exxon-Mobil.”

But Spencer doesn’t disclose his leadership roles in climate skeptic groups financed by Exxon and other key players in what’s been dubbed the “climate denial machine”: the network of companies, think tanks and foundations that have sought to deny and downplay the scientific consensus that global warming is real and caused in large part by human activity.