Pockets of methane in underground coal seams are vented by mining operations, with 52.3 million metric tons leaking from the world’s mines each year, outstripping methane emissions from either oil or gas wells, according to an analysis from Global Energy Monitor.
“Our study shows that these mine emissions are in many cases being underestimated by governments as they set net-zero goals,” said Ryan Driskell Tate, a research analyst at Global Energy Monitor and author of the report.
Planned coal mining projects could add another 11.3 million metric tons of methane emissions each year, the report finds. While methane lingers in the atmosphere for less time than carbon dioxide — just a few years, as opposed to centuries — it is far more potent, trapping more than 80 times as much heat over a 20-year period. On that scale, methane from planned coal-mining projects will have a greater climate impact than every coal-fired power plant currently operating in the United States.
Complicating matters, the war in Ukraine may spur greater demand for coal. The Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Romania, Italy, and Germany have all suggested they could burn more coal as part of efforts to limit their dependence on imported Russian gas, Climate Home News reports. While an ambitious European Union plan to wean off Russian gas does not call for greater coal burning, the International Energy Agency said coal is a viable tool in its plan for curbing Russian imports.