Morrow Pacific: Life Cycle Assessment of a Coal Export Project

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Stricter emissions requirements on coal-fired power plants together with low natural gas prices have contributed to a recent decline in the use of coal for electricity generation in the United States. Faced with a shrinking domestic market, many coal companies are taking advantage of a growing coal export market. As a result, U.S. coal exports hit an all-time high in 2012, fueled largely by demand in Asia. The Australian firm Ambre Energy is currently pursuing a permit to develop and operate a coal export project in Oregon that will ship 8.8 million tons of Powder River Basin coal annually to Asian markets via rail, river barge, and ocean vessel. This study uses a hybrid life cycle assessment model to conduct the only environmental life cycle analysis of the project to date. Social and environmental impacts are quantified and monetized to provide a full picture of the project’s externalities as a basis for comparison to other energy export alternatives. Findings show that fuel combustion during the three transport phases of the project contributes significant emissions add-ons to the pollution profile of the exported coal. This study highlights the unintended social and environmental consequences of policies intended to reduce air emissions from domestic coal-fired power plants.





Bohnengel, Andrew Barrett (2013). Morrow Pacific: Life Cycle Assessment of a Coal Export Project. Master's project, Duke University. Retrieved from

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