Loopholes in EU methane regulation allow coal mines to add emissions the size of Belgium and Czechia combined

  • Brussels

  • 2 March 2023

Analysis by energy think tank Ember reveals that two major loopholes in the EU methane regulation would allow coal mines to release an additional 2.2 million tonnes of methane emissions by 2050, equivalent to the combined annual CO2 emissions of Belgium and Czechia.

The EU regulation seeks to cap the amount of potent greenhouse gas methane that coal mines are allowed to release, or ‘vent’, instead of capturing and either destroying or utilising the gas. Later this month, European Parliament committees will vote on the latest amendments. 

However, a recent amendment increases the venting threshold for thermal coal mines from 0.5 to 5 tonnes of methane per kilotonne of coal until 2031, after which the threshold will be lowered to 3 tonnes. Furthermore, the methane regulation fails to enforce a venting threshold for coking coal used in steelmaking. 

The analysis by Ember shows the latest revisions to the regulation will only cut methane emissions from coal mines by 47%, well below its stated climate goal of a 58% reduction. This means an extra 2.2 million tonnes of methane by 2050, which is equivalent to 180 million tonnes of additional CO2-e, more than Belgium and Czechia’s annual CO2 emissions combined.

‘Low hanging fruit’ for methane reductions

Coal mines are the EU’s single largest source of methane in the energy sector. Underground hard coal mines are six times more methane-intensive than surface lignite mines, and in 2020 were responsible for 59% of the EU’s methane emissions from coal mines. 

Fortunately, it is easier to tackle methane leaks from underground mines, and the methane–or ‘natural gas’–captured can provide a source of income. In 2020, the methane gas leaked in the EU from these easy-to-tackle sources would have been enough to provide the total household electricity consumption in a large Polish city such as Wroclaw.

Poland alone was responsible for two-thirds of EU coal mine methane emissions in 2020. Twelve of the country’s underground hard coal mines are responsible for the majority of these methane emissions (87%). Seven of the mines produce thermal coal and could be prioritised for closure and replaced by other low-methane reserves, according to the analysis by Ember.

Romania is the EU’s second-largest emitter, responsible for 85% of EU methane emitted by abandoned coal mines. If Romania captured and utilised just half of these emissions, the report finds this could generate 75 million euros of electricity and enough waste heat to warm almost 19,000 hospital beds per year.

The analysis by Ember recommends that venting thresholds on thermal mines should be no more than 3 tonnes methane per kilotonne of coal mined from 2027, then reduced to 1 tonne of methane per kilotonne of coal mined by 2030. For coking coal mines, Ember recommends that the regulation should enforce a venting threshold of a maximum 5 tonnes of methane per kilotonne of coal from 2027. Such a scenario would put the EU on track to reach its 58% emissions reduction goal.

The European Union led 150 nations to sign the Global Methane Pledge but now risks shying away from taking action at home. Reducing coal mine methane emissions is realistic, affordable and doesn’t cost jobs. Let’s safeguard the EU’s original sensible proposal on coal mine methane and encourage other global producers to take on one of the easiest wins in tackling the climate crisis.

Dr Sabina Assan Methane analyst, Ember