Fossil Fuel Resource Leader? U.S. is No. 1 in World, Thanks to Coal

Last Updated Nov 5, 2009 11:19 AM EST

The U.S. has the most fossil fuel resources in the world. More than Saudi Arabia. More than Canada, Iran and even Russia, which is nibbling at U.S. heels.

The United States' fossil fuel reserves -- that's oil, natural gas and coal -- come in at 969.7 billion barrels of oil equivalent (BOE), according to a recent Congressional Research Service report.

Russia has 954.9 billion BOE; followed by China with 465.6 billion BOE; and Saudi Arabia and Iran, both with 311.6 billion BOE, according to the report.

The reason we're No. 1 is because of coal, which makes up the vast majority of our fossil fuel resources at 906 billion BOE.

That's a lot of coal. And as R-Squared Energy blogger Robert Rapier noted in his post, the figures point to the importance coal will play when oil reserves start to seriously deplete.

Which brings us to the general topic of government policy and more specifically, climate-change legislation.

The haggle-fest within Congress over passage of a climate-change bill has centered almost exclusively on cost. Namely, what will cap-and-trade legislation cost consumers, the oil refiner worker, the fossil fuels' industry, the U.S. economy? What will the cost be if efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions fail?

Coal is a cheap and abundant resource in the U.S. It's also the dirtiest, which leaves the country at crossroads.

In the pursuit of energy independence, do we chase the easiest-to-reach, cheapest resource; invest in a cleaner alternative that may be more expensive; or do some combination of both? If we choose an alternative to coal, which one do we go with? Do we put our money into carbon capture and storage in hopes of making coal "clean"?

We know where Warren Buffet has placed his bet: strong rail, cheap coal and expensive oil. Others, especially those less than excited about more coal-fired electricity plants, are going to push for an alternative -- of which there are any number of choices.

And again, we've come back to government policy, which will likely dictate the path the U.S. takes.

Image of coal train by Flickr user Sol Young, CC 2.0