Arch Coal’s West Elk mine near Somerset, Colorado, is the only still-active large coal mine in the North Fork Valley and is the state’s largest emitter of methane. Photo: Mark Olalde

By Mark Olalde
13 August 2018

(Climate Home News) – Across the US, a major, uncontrolled leak of a potent greenhouse gas is going unregulated and largely unnoticed.

Climate Home News analysis of government data has identified roughly 300 active and 200 abandoned coal mines, which are the source of almost one-tenth of US methane pollution.

Methane has 34 times the long-term warming effect of carbon dioxide and accounts for 10 percent of US greenhouse gas emissions. Its emissions from the oil and gas industry and the efforts of the Trump administration to roll back regulations on them have been widely publicised.

Meanwhile, U.S. coal mines released 60.5 MMTCO2e of methane in 2016, with roughly the same warming impact as 13 million cars. Efforts to control the problem are being hampered despite those with the technical expertise claiming a whole industry could be built on capturing these emissions and turning them into electricity.

Data collected by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), shows Warrior Met Coal Mining’s No 7 Mine in Alabama emits the most methane of any mine in the US.

“The coal seams Warrior Met Coal mine contain high levels of methane gas. Much of the gas is captured prior to, during and after active mining operations and distributed into commercial pipelines,” Warrior spokesperson Bill Stanhouse said in an emailed statement. Even with these efforts, the mine emits at least 262,700m3 of methane into the atmosphere per day.

Projected global coal mine methane emissions by 2020. The total is 671.4 MMTCO2E. Graphic: EPA

The remainder of the top five methane-emitting coal mines, according to MSHA’s data, are:

  • Alliance Resource Partners’ recently closed Pattiki mine in Illinois – more than 113,300m3 per day
  • ERP Compliant Fuels’ Pinnacle Mine in West Virginia – more than 111,700m3 per day
  • Sunrise Coal’s Oaktown Fuels Mine No 1 in Indiana – more than 86,600m3 per day
  • Txoma Mining’s P8 North mine in Oklahoma – more than 81,900m3 per day

Besides Warrior, none of these companies replied to requests for comment. [more]

The US’ hidden methane problem

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