Poland's Second Bełchatów

Methane leaking from Poland’s coal mines needs more urgent action

Małgorzata Kasprzak

30 November 2020 | 3 min read

About

The subject of coal mine methane has been largely neglected, but as the European Commission aims to clamp down on methane emissions, coal mine methane is now getting the attention it deserves. This report lifts the lid on coal mining’s dirty little secret.

We analysed Europe’s country-by-country methane emissions reported to the UNFCCC for 2018 and mine-by-mine emissions in Poland. Based on our findings we formulated six solutions to address this issue.

Executive summary

Methane leaking from Poland’s coal mines needs more urgent action

Did you know that methane leaking from coal mines is a bigger cause of global warming than aviation and shipping combined?

We analysed Europe’s country-by-country methane emissions reported to the
UNFCCC for 2018. We found that:

  • 70% of methane leaks from Europe’s operational coal mines were from
    Poland.
  • Most of Poland’s coal mine leaks were from operational underground
    coal mines (89%). The rest are from surface mines, including lignite, and
    abandoned coal mines, although it is possible that the leakage rate for
    abandoned mines is underestimated.
  • The climate impact of methane leaks from Poland’s coal mines was
    bigger than that of Belchatów power plant. The 659 kilotonnes of
    methane emitted from Poland’s coal mines are equivalent to 56.7 million
    tonnes of carbon dioxide. This is more than Belchatów’s CO2
    emissions, which were 38.3 million tonnes in 2018.

We then analysed mine-by-mine emissions in 2018 in Poland. We found that:

  • Two Polish companies were responsible for 90% of methane leaks from
    Poland’s operational hard coal mines. JSW was responsible for 50%
    (231 kt out of 462 kt), and PGG was responsible for 40% (186 kt). JSW
    is mostly mining coking coal for steel-making, whereas PGG is mostly mining thermal coal for electricity generation.

Coal’s climate impact is not just from burning the coal itself: like oil and gas, coal also has a problem with methane leaks. This is a problem that Poland shares with coal-mining countries, especially China and Russia. We hope that Poland leads on the development of technology and pathways to help rapidly reduce leaks at home and abroad. We are also calling for the EU methane strategy to adopt measures to quickly reduce coal mine methane in Europe, and also from abroad – especially relating to coal mined for steel-making, which will be slower to phase out.

Dave Jones Senior Electricity Analyst, Ember

European analysis

70% of methane leaks from Europe's operational coal mines were from Poland.

Most of Poland’s coal mine leaks were from operational underground coal mines (89%).

The rest are from surface mines, including lignite, and abandoned coal mines, although it is possible that the leakage rate for abandoned mines is underestimated.

The climate impact of methane leaks from Poland’s coal mines was bigger than that of Belchatów power plant.

The 659 kilotonnes of methane emitted from Poland’s coal mines are equivalent to 56.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. This is more than Bełchatów’s CO2 emissions, which were 38.3 million tonnes in 2018. This assesses methane’s fast-acting impact over 20 years, where one tonne of methane is equivalent to 86 tonnes of CO2; even if it is assessed over 100-years when methane’s impact is reduced to the equivalent of 34 tonnes of CO2, then Poland’s coal mine methane climate impact would be 22.4 million tonnes of CO2. In this report, when we convert into CO2, we do so acknowledging the quick upfront impact of methane on climate, by using the 20-year multiplier of 86.

Poland mine-by-mine research

2 companies responsible for 90% methane leaks from Poland's operational hard coal mines

JSW was responsible for 50% (231 kt out of 462 kt), and PGG was responsible for 40% (186 kt). JSW is mostly mining coking coal for steel-making, whereas PGG is mostly mining thermal coal for electricity generation.

Methane leaks add on average 23% to the climate impact of burning hard coal in Poland.

Methane leaks add 51% – over half – to the lifecycle emissions of JSW’s coal, and 22% to PGG’s coal. This is despite the fact that 43% of Polish hard coal is mined with near-zero methane emissions.

Budryk deep mine is the biggest methane emitter of JSW, Poland, and the whole of Europe.

It emitted 93 kilotonnes of methane in 2018; this is equivalent to 8 million tonnes of CO2. Methane leaks more than double the lifecycle emissions of Budryk’s coal, adding 107%.

Methane leaks at two of PGG’s mines added over 50% to the lifecycle emissions of the coal mined from those mines.

These mines were Mysłowice-Wesoła and Sośnica. The methane leaked added 73% and 52% to the lifecycle emissions respectively, calculating methane’s impact over 20 years.

16% of the methane leaks are from methane that has already been captured.

This methane could be easily flared to reduce its environmental impact or, simply, sold. The value of this gas in 2018 was 110 million PLN.

As Europe’s worst performers, Poland’s coal mines need more urgent action. There are so few controls on methane, companies are even releasing it into the atmosphere after it has already been captured. JSW needs to accelerate their plan for full methane emissions reduction and PGG needs to prioritise closure of its most methane-intensive coal mines. There are also interesting opportunities to invest transition money to reduce methane leaking from closed coal mines, preserving some jobs in mining regions.

Małgorzata Kasprzak Junior Research Analyst, Ember

Conclusion

Solutions

There are six solutions that we believe will help to reduce Polish coal mine
methane emissions:

  1.  JSW needs to accelerate its plans to cut methane.
  2.  PGG needs to prioritise closure of its two most methane-intensive mines.
  3.  Ban release of captured methane with immediate effect.
  4.  Use the Just Transition mechanism to fund sealing legacy abandoned mines.
  5.  The European Commission’s methane strategy should legislate for coal mine methane.
  6.  The Emissions Trading Scheme should include methane from 2030.

Supporting Material


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Acknowledgements

Report design

Wilf Lytton

Cover graphic

Cover graphic: Composition by Leonardo Barreto (leocamposbarreto@gmail.com) using photos from iStock.com/ JanMiko and Lms_lms

Peer Reviewer

Jarosław Nęcki, PhD, AGH University of Science and Technology


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