U.S. Efforts to Reduce Methane Emissions from Abandoned Coal Mines

October 12, 2023

The United States’ transition away from coal mining leaves an ongoing question of restoring abandoned coal mine environments. Notably, abandoned coal mines sites continue to emit methane at a significant rate. There are strong benefits to managing the methane emissions from abandoned coal mines, including slowing near-term climate change, diversifying energy sources, revitalizing local economies, and alleviating health and environmental hazards. 

The United States is at the forefront of efforts to mitigate and utilize methane emissions from abandoned coal mines. This effort has advanced through several key approaches, including: (1) methane modeling and monitoring, (2) methane utilization projects, (3) inter-agency collaboration, and (4) incorporation of methane emissions into a broader framework for abandoned coal mine reclamation. Through a combination of policy, regulations, financial incentives, monitoring, and evaluation, the U.S. case example shows the successes and challenges to reducing methane emissions. These findings are particularly relevant for countries that are decommissioning coal mines, such as China. 

Five principal lessons learned from the U.S. that could be useful for China and other jurisdictions are as follows: 

● A comprehensive abandoned mine methane policy package should include investment, regulations, financial incentives, and interagency collaboration frameworks. 

● Continuous investment in abandoned mine methane projects and innovative monitoring technology are crucial for capitalizing on the multiple potential benefits of abandoned mine methane mitigation. 

● Regulatory barriers to developing abandoned mine methane mitigation and utilization projects can be addressed through both regulatory (i.e., royalty and tax relief) and legislative approaches. Market-based financial incentives (i.e., a cap-and-trade program) are also needed to encourage investment.

● Collaboration among different stakeholders (e.g., government agencies, academics, and companies) and direct governmental engagement with communities is needed to ensure that local communities benefit from abandoned mine methane mitigation and utilization projects. 

● Integrating abandoned mine methane mitigation and utilization into a broader framework is important for facilitating a sustainable economic transition for historically coal-dependent communities and the lands where they work and live. 

Our new California-China Climate Institute report, produced with colleagues from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, analyzes policies and programs, implementation mechanisms, and lessons learned from the U.S. in reducing methane emissions from abandoned coal mines. U.S. lessons and experiences provide insights for other regions on best practices that could be adopted, as well as existing challenges and gaps to achieve methane reductions. 

Read the Full Report in English

Read the Summary for Policymakers in English

Read the Summary for Policymakers in Mandarin.