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Coal Mine Methane

Australia’s coal mines have a methane problem*. In 2019, they released 68% of Australia’s methane emissions from the energy industry overall, making coal mines a larger contributor than both oil and gas. 

What’s more, new evidence suggests emissions are under-reported and are actually significantly higher than this.

‘Coal mine methane’ (CMM) is an umbrella term referring to methane released from coal seams as a result of mining activities. Global estimates of coal mine methane indicate that it is a major contributor to climate
change, and to the national emissions of coal-producing countries.

Methane leaking from coal mines has been ignored for many years, but tackling it is the ‘low hanging fruit’ in Australia’s effort to combat climate change. Methane is a potent and fast-acting greenhouse gas, which is 82.5 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over 20 years, making the task of reducing methane levels even more important in the near-term. 

Reducing coal use, and legislating the end of new coal, are crucial to this goal. To tackle leaks immediately, existing technology must be used to directly measure methane emissions as well as capture and/or utilise the methane leaking from active and closed coal mines. It is up to the Australian government to legislate a robust plan to rapidly reduce leaks in the short term and jump-start a just transition to phase out coal.

Australia’s CMM causes more global heating than all of Australia’s cars

In 2019, coal companies reported via the Australian Greenhouse Emissions Information System (AGEIS) that their mines leaked 898,000 tonnes of methane into the atmosphere, representing 5% of Australia’s total GHG emissions. Methane’s short-term climate impact is 82.5 times that of carbon dioxide, making the methane released by coal mines equivalent to 74.3 million tonnes of CO2. This is greater than the 44 million tonnes of car CO2 emissions reported in AGEIS for 2019.

Coal Mine Methane emissions twice as high as official estimates

The IEA estimated that Australian coal mines emitted 1.8 million tonnes of methane in 2021, double the officially reported figures. Independent satellite measurements have also uncovered under-reporting of methane emissions from Australian coal mines. Open-pit mines in particular show the greatest disparity between reported and measured emissions - Hail Creek open pit mine was shown to be leaking more than 10 times the amount reported to regulators. Emission factor based reporting must be replaced with direct, source and site level methane measurements if Australia aims to seriously address its CMM emissions.

The worst performing coal emits over 10 times more than the least emitting.

In Queensland, the two gassiest mines emitted 24% of reported scope 1 emissions from coal mines, while in New South Wales the two gassiest mines emitted 29%. Not all coal is equally gassy - the gassiest 25% of coal emits 68% of coal mine emissions whereas the best performing coal only emits 4%. To realise the most impactful emission reductions, efforts should first be concentrated on the gassiest coal mines.

Emissions are likely to rise not fall

Australia is the world’s 6th largest coal mine methane emitter and on track to become the 3rd worst. Existing methane leaks aren't being plugged with any urgency. Mines are not voluntarily stepping up to implement methane abatement technology, and regulation on methane emissions measurement and reporting is patchy. What's more, new coal mines are likely to result in further increases in methane leaks, and 45% of these are thermal-only mines. Queensland's proposed mines will double the state's current emissions. In NSW, two recently approved mine extensions could emit a further 112 Mt CO2-e in their lifetime.

* The information on this page is taken from the EMBER Report “Tackling Australia’s Coal Mine Methane Problem”. Lead author: Dr Sabina Assan; Reviewed by: Conal Campbell, Dave Jones & Sam Moorhead. Read and download the full report here.

Methane is a climate cooker!

By 2030 methane gas leaking from Queensland’s coal mines and gas fields will be the biggest source of emissions in Queensland. And what’s worse -  these super emitters are getting away with it. 

By 2030 the mining of coal and gas will be creating more emissions in Queensland than agriculture, manufacturing or electricity. And while every other sector is making efforts to reduce emissions, the big mining companies are blowing Queensland’s emissions budget and doing nothing about it. 

Will you sign our petition calling for urgent action from the Queensland government on leaking methane gas from gas fields and coal mines?  We need to show the Queensland government that they have an urgent responsibility to hold mining companies to account.

Petition text:

Dear Environment Minister Leanne Linard,

The Queensland government needs to act urgently to measure and control coal and gas mine methane - which is a growing source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Allowing coal and has mine methane to continue to increase, with new mine approvals and mine expansions will mean Queensland will have no chance of reaching its climate targets. Climate damage places homes, livelihoods and communities at risk.

The Queensland government should:
  1. Stop approving new coal and gas mines - this only adds to the problem.
  2. Close the gassiest mines
  3. Require strict measurement and abatement measures for existing coal and gas mines

Will you sign?