The coal industry is facing uphill fiscal challenges, with economic pressure resulting from recent advances in the petroleum industry including horizontal oil drilling and natural gas fracking. One of the primary waste products that are now accounted for and required to be offset by government bonds in the US is the coal fines that have accumulated over the decades at the vast majority of the mining sites throughout the US. With increasing awareness of the health hazards of airborne coal particulate, there has been the need to eliminate the burning of coal containing fine particulate. In 2013, they published their results in Environmental Research Letters, concluding that 2.1 million deaths occur worldwide each year as a direct result of a toxic type of outdoor air pollution known as fine particulate matter.
In addition to the airborne pollutant issues, the storage of ash, sludge, and coal fines is a costly management problem and an additional source for pollution, as water runoff can be contaminated with these fine particulate materials leading to contamination of water systems and drinking water. Typical coal mine operations will store millions of tons of coal fines onsite, which accrue EPA penalties and bond purchase offsets. Per the Union of Concerned Scientists, additional waste created by a typical coal-fired power plant includes more than 125,000 tons of ash and 193,000 tons of sludge annually. Improper waste disposal can result in contamination of drinking water by toxic components — including arsenic, chromium, cadmium, and mercury — and cause damage to the nervous system and organs of humans.
The petroleum industry can be broadly divided into Upstream, Midstream, and Downstream sectors. The Upstream sector encompasses the exploration and collection/production of crude oil and natural gas, while the Downstream sector encompasses the processing and refining industries, through retailing and consumers. The Midstream sector involves the gathering, transportation, and storage, and represents a large strategical investment in the total industry.
Most liquid fuel processing systems today are very large industrial complexes that take years to construct and deploy, investments costing hundreds of millions of dollars. New fuel processing plant construction has been at a standstill in the US since the mid-1980s, for various complex economic and political reasons, principal among them being the environmental impact of such operations.