Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Coal companies look to cash in by capturing leaking methane from mines and selling credits to California

Coal companies in Appalachia, hit harder by market and regulatory forces than any other region in the U.S., hope to cash in by selling captured mine methane to companies in California, "the only place in the U.S. where there is a limit and a price on carbon," Anya Litvak reports for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "There may be enough coal mine methane in the U.S. to offset 60 million metric tons of carbon dioxide over a 10-year period, according to the California Air Resources Board. At $10 a ton, that's $600 million in new money for coal companies and their project partners."

The first project would be at Consol Energy's Enlow Fork mine in Washington County (Wikipedia map), which "would offset 201,000 tons of carbon dioxide," Litvak writes. How it works is that Verdeo, a developer of clean energy projects, would "pay Consol for the use of its ventilated air, destroy the methane in that airstream and sell the credits generated from that to companies in California. Because greenhouse gas emissions contribute to global, not regional, warming, projects anywhere in the U.S. qualify under California's system as long as they are approved by the California Air Resources Board."

And there's plenty of methane waiting to be sold. "The air coming out of the Enlow mine is about 0.8 percent methane, but there's 181,000 cubic feet of it being ventilated each minute," Litvak writes. At Consol's McElroy mine in Marshall County, West Virginia (Wikipedia map), "the air is 1.2 percent methane, and 209,000 cubic feet of it is released each minute. Destroying that methane offsets the emissions of a 50 megawatt coal plant each year."

The only hurdle is that critics "have argued that awarding credits to coal-mine methane would deflect resources from greener technologies with a more local impact," a fear that stalled a decision by the Air Resources Board in October, Litvak writes. But if the board approves a protocol, it will mean big money for coal companies, because of the higher cost of selling into the California carbon market. "For a project the size of Enlow or McElroy, the difference between selling on the voluntary market and selling into the California carbon market is the difference between $300,000 and $3 million a year." (Read more)

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