Tapping into methane


Last fall, we wrote about the enormous amounts of greenhouse gas vented by coal mines (in the West, methane emissions from mines are equivalent to the emissions from 1.9 million cars). And methane, an explosive gas vented for miner safety, is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of heat-trapping.

At many East Coast coal mines, the methane is captured and burned for energy, but in the West, various regulatory and jurisdictional issues have made it difficult or impossible for mines to do so (for example, a company that has a mining lease on public land must obtain a separate lease to capture methane released from its mines).

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency hosted its third annual conference aimed at solving those problems. The Casper Star-Tribune reports:

... The capture of methane from the usual venting stream could generate a lot of low-cost carbon credits in a short amount of time. Industry officials here said those type of low-cost carbon credits are essential in order to have a functional cap-and-trade carbon program. ...

Industry-wide, coal companies are chasing coal deeper and into more difficult geology. These deeper coals are also more gassy.

At the same time, the gas industry has made quantum leaps in horizontal drilling and well stimulation techniques to tap the gas before, during and post-mining.

Perhaps by the fourth annual conference, we'll see some real progress.

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