PITTSBURGH (AP) –
There is so much unwanted gas coming from American coal mines – those that are still producing coal, and even those that have long since stopped – that federal data suggests it exceeds CO2 emissions from the entire US petrochemical industry.
It’s more than the greenhouse gas impact of all iron, steel and coking plants in the country.
For environmentalists and entrepreneurs alike, this represents a huge, underutilized resource to avoid and get paid for these emissions.
“The potential in the US is pretty big,” said Ben Apple, director of Environmental Commodities Corporation, a Maryland-based developer of projects that generate carbon credits – like systems that prevent mine gas from being released into the atmosphere.
This gas is methane, which is many times stronger than carbon dioxide when it is used to trap heat over a shorter period of time. Estimates assume that CO2 is 25 to 84 times the risk of warming.
Even burning this gas, not for electricity but just to get rid of it, is much better for the environment than doing nothing.
That’s what Mr. Apple’s company does a lot. It pulls methane from coal mines and burns it in an oxidation chamber. The resulting emissions are water vapor and carbon dioxide.
Of course, this gas could be used for energy if it is concentrated enough and a pipeline is nearby. In this way, CNX Resources sold the methane from the Buchanan mine in Virginia – the “strongest gas” mine in America – to a natural gas pipeline and to a local power plant owned by the Cecil-based oil and gas company.
That way, CNX stated last week, it’s been net carbon negative for years as its rivals in the shale gas space have set targets to hit zero net. The emissions that prevent it from venting from Buchanan offsets many times the emissions CNX produces at its shale gas operations, the company said.
Preventing most of the gas from escaping in Buchanan saved the equivalent of 9 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2018, according to the latest available data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is keeping an inventory of the 35 most gassed mines. Buchanan tops the list by a factor of two.
According to the EPA, around 62 million cubic feet of methane came from the sprawling mine every day in 2018. To put this in perspective, this is more than double the daily amount of gas CNX contributes from all of its shale gas wells. pulls Pittsburgh International Airport, according to the latest data from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
Unlike its Marcellus gas, the methane from the Buchanan mine qualifies as a renewable energy source under the Pennsylvania Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards. So CNX is paid for the alternative energy credits in addition to the selling price.
In the near future, CNX also plans to generate emissions certificates. This from a company that has so far refused to talk about limiting CO2 emissions.
“We haven’t changed. The world has changed, ”said Yemi Akinkugbe, CNX’s Chief Excellence Officer.
What CNX has been doing to make money for decades – extracting gas from coal mines and selling it – is now an environmental good.
While it has not yet certified any of its carbon emissions from Buchanan, the company is actively developing other mine gas mitigation projects and has submitted specific projects to be considered for carbon credits.
Mr. Akinkugbe expects this to further prepare CNX for when – “not if, but when” – to price carbon emissions.
The richest gas mine in America
The Buchanan Mine opened in 1983 and until 2016 was owned by Consol Energy, the 150-year-old coal mining company that CNX founded as a subsidiary specifically for the collection and sale of mining methane from Buchanan. The two separated in 2017.
The methane embedded in it is released when rock breaks up under the earth and there is a risk of explosion in the room. Federal safety regulations require mine owners to vent this gas from the mine. But no environmental ordinance stipulates that it may enter the atmosphere, just as no federal law prohibits the emission of carbon dioxide.
Pit methane first became a commodity when companies like old Consol realized they could sell it as fuel.
But when shale gas emerged and oil and gas companies, including CNX, turned their attention to drilling mile-long torrents and driving down the price of natural gas, mine gas was no longer the hot ticket as it once seemed.
Around the same time that the Marcellus Shale Onslaught began, President Barack Obama made it a priority to pass climate laws that would limit carbon emissions.
In 2010 Consol Energy began efforts to extract and destroy methane from its McElroy mine in West Virginia. His then vice president of research and development, Steve Winberg, said it was a stepping stone to getting started with carbon offsetting.
But the climate law has not worked and there is still no federal upper limit for greenhouse gas emissions.
Nonetheless, a Cap and Trade Carbon Market set up by the California Air Resources Board began. In 2014, the board allowed methane projects in coal mines to qualify for CO2 credits.
That same year, Ben Apple founded the Environmental Commodities Corporation, which dominates the coal mine’s methane field.
The name of the company is everywhere in the projects in this area.
When Consol launched a methane control effort at its Greene County Bailey Mine in 2017, it was Environmental Commodities that developed the system and worked on the credits.
When the decommissioned Mine 84 in Washington County opened a mine gas incinerator last year, so did Mr. Apple’s company.
His name appears on many of the dozen of dozen mining methane projects listed on the top three carbon registers where credits are reviewed and listed. One credit corresponds to one ton of avoided CO2 emissions.
In total, these projects prevented almost 8 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent from entering the atmosphere.
But the effect is not exactly groundbreaking. The Bailey Mine emits as much as federal data shows in three years. Meanwhile, methane destruction efforts at the mine have prevented 226,292 million tons of greenhouse gases from being released into the atmosphere, data from Consol shows. The coal company plans to step up these efforts and generate carbon offsets, as its documents show.
Even in the Buchanan mine, where the majority of the mine gas is intercepted in what is by far the largest mine methane reduction project in the country, almost 2 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent are still released into the atmosphere, according to the EPA. Buchanan is now owned by the Australian company Coronado Global Resources.
CNX, which retained the gas rights to the mine, will likely begin burning some of this remainder to generate carbon credits. It already has a buyer for the future offsets: its Canonsburg neighbor, Equitrans Midstream Corp. The pipeline company announced earlier this month that it would purchase $ 150 million in carbon credits to offset the greenhouse gas impact of its Mountain Valley pipeline.
Such voluntary purchases are becoming more common, Apple said.
But it’s the only compliance-based marketplace in California that has moved the needle, he said.
“The California program resulted in more methane depletion in the mines than any other program in the world,” said Apple. “I was sitting in the room with antagonists who said, ‘Don’t do this about coal seam methane. Don’t give anyone a carbon credit because they should be regulated. ‘
“That was a very healthy debate,” he said. But half a dozen years later, no regulations were put in place to regulate methane emissions from coal mines. But the methane escapes anyway.