Health & Science

Satellite images reveal high methane emissions from coal mines in Australia

A Dutch group of scientists studied satellite images of six Australian coal mines. Results suggest Australian coal mines emit a lot more methane than what the country reports. One is particularly on the spot.

ALCOA Anglesea coal mine
Anglesea coal mine in Australia (closed in 2015). Australia is the fifth largest producer of coal in the world | © John Englart, 2014

The use of satellite imagery on six Australia coal mines suggested that methane emissions in the country coming form coal mines are much higher than reported.

These six coal mines account for only 7% of coal production in Australia. Yet, they would emit between 45% and 65% of Australia's total methane emissions coming from coal mining (55%+/-10%).

"It is hard to believe", says professor Ilse Aben who leads the team of researchers. They used images of a satellite atmospheric sensor for 2 years on coal mines in Queensland to quantify their methane emissions.

Queensland is the largest coal producing state in Australia. Australia is the fifth largest producer of coal in the world.

During the COP26 in Glasgow, more than a hundred countries signed the global methane pledge initiative to reduce 2020-level methane emissions by 30% by 2030. Australia didn't sign the pledge.

Hail Creek coal mine would produce 1% of Australian coal and emit 20% of its methane

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, much more powerful than carbon dioxide. Stuck in coal seams, methane and other gas are released as coal is being extracted.

Along with methane and carbon, extracting coal can also emit sulfur dioxide, an air pollutant causing acid rain. South Africa is one of the largest emitters of sulfur dioxide in the world because of a single coal mine.

And one of the coal mine in Queensland is particularly on the spot: the Hail Creek Open Cut. This mine alone emitted 40% of the methane emissions recorded by the Dutch team.

The mine is operated by Glencore, a giant company of 150,000 employees working in commodities and extraction of natural resources. In 2020, Glencore generated US $11.6 billion in profit.

The Hail Creek mine is only 1% of Australian coal production. But results indicate it accounts for 20% of the national methane emissions coming from coal mining.

And the emissions would be much higher than what is reported to the government. The results suggest a "large underreporting of methane emissions in the national inventory reporting".

Australia reports 1 million tons of coal mining methane emissions of per year.

Read more about Australia

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