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Methane from new coal mines could cause greater warming than US coal plants

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A bevvy of new mining projects located on some of the world’s gassiest coal seams could release enough methane to rival the current CO2 emissions from coal plants in the United States, a report has said.

Global Energy Monitor (GEM) modelled worldwide methane emissions estimates at the individual mine level, using data on mining depth, coal rank and production.

The analysis, which surveyed 432 proposed coal mines, found that the methane emissions from these mines which are currently in construction or pre-construction planning would amount to 13.5 million tonnes of methane annually - a 30 per cent increase over current emissions.

Depending on the methane-to-CO2 equivalency used, coal mine methane is responsible for 7.5 to 20 per cent of a typical mine’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Methane is the second-biggest contributor to global warming after CO2 and although it has a shorter atmospheric lifetime, it has much stronger potency and warming potential.

“Coal mine methane has dodged scrutiny for years, even though there’s clear evidence it poses a significant climate impact,” said Ryan Driskell Tate, a GEM research analyst and the report’s author.

“If new coal mines proceed as planned, without mitigation measures in place, then a major source of greenhouse gas will go unrestrained.”

A study last year found that the cost of continuing to use coal in electricity production is higher than not using it when accounting for the negative monetary impacts from higher healthcare costs and biodiversity loss.

As of now, GEM’s model includes only active emissions and does not factor the full life of mine emissions, including those after the mine has closed or abandoned.

It’s planning to expand its coverage of operating mines to include more underground operations, which have higher gas contents than surface mines. By some estimates, underground mines emit 10 times more methane per tonne of coal than surface operations.

Earlier this year, the UK approved its first new coal mine in 30 years, although fierce backlash from environmental campaigners - who are concerned it will disrupt the UK’s efforts to reach net zero carbon emissions - could cause the project's cancellation.

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