Global Energy Monitor
  • Dorothy Lan Mei and Sarah Lerman-Sinkoff

Key points

  • Abandoned underground coal mines in the European Union that have closed since 2015 could emit an estimated 298 million cubic meters (MCM) of methane per year, equivalent to the amount of potential emissions leaked from the Nordstream pipeline after the 2022 explosion.
  • Poland is the top emitter of abandoned mine methane (AMM): Its sixteen mines release an estimated 110 MCM of methane annually, nearly 40% of the EU's total AMM. The Czech Republic (90 MCM) and Germany (55 MCM) rank as the second and third largest AMM emitters without mitigation measures. 
  • Without mitigation, just six mines could account for half (152 MCM) of the methane emissions from all EU’s AMM.

Methane emissions from abandoned underground coal mines in the EU emit as much as the Nordstream pipeline explosion in 2022, according to a first-of-its-kind analysis by Global Energy Monitor of its pioneering granular coal mine dataset. 

The Global Coal Mine Tracker includes data on 5,226 active and proposed coal mines responsible for more than 90% of global coal production, and, as of April 2024, it also includes data on more than 1,200 retired and abandoned coal mines around the world, including all the known abandoned coal mines in the EU that were closed between 2015 and 2023, where information is available.

Poland holds the dubious distinction of having the most abandoned underground hard coal mines in the EU. This translates into being the EU's largest AMM emitter, releasing an estimated 110 MCM of methane annually. Notably, this amount of methane accounts for nearly 40% of the EU’s total annual AMM emissions.

The Czech Republic is the second largest AMM emitter in the EU, contributing approximately 90 MCM of methane each year. Two large scale underground mines, ČSA Coal Mine and Darkov Coal Mine that both closed in 2021 are responsible for nearly 70% of the country’s AMM emissions. 

Despite having only three identified abandoned underground mines closed between 2015 and 2023, Germany ranks as the third largest AMM emitter, releasing approximately 55 MCM of methane annually. This is likely due to the extreme depth of its mines and the high-quality anthracite coal, which may have a higher gas content. Germany is also a global leader in AMM utilization, meaning it has extensive experience in capturing methane emissions from abandoned mines and utilizing 99% of their total AMM emissions, primarily for electricity generation through combined heat and power plants.

The combined AMM emissions from the top three countries contribute almost 90% of the EU’s total AMM emissions.

In addition, just six mines account for roughly half of all EU abandoned underground mine methane, including the ČSA and Darkov coal mines in the Czech Republic, the Auguste Victoria Colliery and Prosper-Haniel Mine in Germany, and Poland’s KWK Mysłowice-Wesoła I and KWK Rydułtowy I mines.

The International Energy Agency has said that coal mining activities are responsible for more than 10% of total methane emissions, yet this figure does not include emissions from abandoned mines, which it has also said could constitute a substantial portion of global methane emissions.

In order to help close this gap, in November 2023, the EU reached a provisional agreement to curb methane emissions. Once formally enacted, these regulations will require companies to not only limit venting from thermal coal mines but also to maintain an inventory of closed, inactive, and abandoned assets so that monitoring and mitigation of their emissions can occur, among other provisions.

Dorothy Mei

When a coal mine is closed, methane emissions do not simply stop, especially if there are no mitigation measures in place. The EU has a huge abandoned mine methane problem that until now it barely understood. Our dataset is essential because you can’t manage what you can’t monitor. The EU’s regulation on methane emissions reduction is a promising path forward, and with improved data collection, we can expect to get a better handle on the scale of the problem and move towards more effective mitigation.

Dorothy Lan Mei, Project Manager for the Global Coal Mine Tracker

Dr. Sabina Assan, Coal Mine Methane Analyst for Ember, said, “The EU’s closed and abandoned mines are an overlooked, and often forgotten methane source. Current estimates put emissions at 25% of the EU's CMM emissions, but due to the lack of measurements and data it could be more. With the EU's transition away from thermal coal and the upcoming EU Methane Regulation, the quality and speed of implementing measures to mitigate abandoned mine methane will be crucial for the EU to meet its climate goals."

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