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Norway Has Vast, Inaccessible Seabed Coal – Statoil

Date: 21-Dec-05
Country: NORWAY
Author: Alister Doyle

If the coal were ever exploited, Norway might become for coal what Saudi Arabia is to oil, said Olav Kaarstad, an energy adviser at Statoil who oversaw a review of geological records from 600 wells drilled off Norway.

"We estimate that there are three trillion tonnes of coal off Norway," he told Reuters.

The International Energy Agency reckons that the world's economically recoverable coal reserves are about one trillion tonnes, or about 200 years of production at current rates.

"Of course the coal off Norway is terribly inaccessible. None of the resources are economically retrievable with today's technology," Kaarstad said.

Still, coal gasification -- under which coal is ignited below ground and releases gases including combustible hydrogen and methane -- has been exploited from shallow onshore coal deposits, notably in the former Soviet Union.

Interest in onshore gasification was increasing in nations from China to South Africa because of high natural gas prices, said Michael Green, managing director of British-based Underground Coal Gasification Engineering.

SPAIN

"Higher gas prices and worries about security of supply mean that (gasification) is coming back into the frame, including in the United States," he told Reuters. "We could see commercial production in 5-10 years of this process onshore."

Green led a 1992-98 gasification experiment in Spain at depths of 550 metres (1,804 ft) that tapped about 300-400 tonnes of coal.

If exploited, coal could extend Norway's life as a fossil fuel producer. The country is now the world's number three oil exporter behind Saudi Arabia and Russia and Western Europe's biggest gas supplier.

Off Norway, the process would be far more complicated than on land.

One platform would have to drill down into a seam to inject oxygen and water -- often enough to ignite the coal which is under pressure at depth. Released gases would then be pumped up to another platform nearby.

The processing platform would have to be able to filter out and reinject carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas blamed for heating the planet, which is released by gasification.

Green said that estimates of world coal deposits ranged widely, with some geologists estimating 6 or 10 trillion tonnes. It was unclear if Statoil's estimates of Norway's reserves were even included in those figures, he said.

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