Why Is Coal Mining Environmentally Damaging?

Coal, which is primarily used as a liquid fuel, in cement manufacturing, steel production, and electricity generation, accounts for an estimated nine percent (9%) of total methane emissions worldwide. (Global Methane Initiative 2018; World Coal Association 2017). The top 10 coal producers worldwide account for 90% of total coal emissions: China, India, USA,  Australia, Indonesia, Russia, South Africa, Germany, Poland, and Kazakhstan. (IEA. 2017.)

According to the International Energy Agency, total coal production declined more than ever since the IEA began its recordings in 1971, with a drop of 458 Mt down to 7.268.6 Mt in comparison to 2015, despite the fact that India, Russia, and Indonesia increased production in 2016.

The World Coal Association states that around 15 percent of all hard coal production is destined for the international coal market, with the largest exporters being Australia, Indonesia, Russia, Colombia, South Africa, USA, Netherlands, Canada, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan. China is the leading importer of coal, followed by India, Japan, Korea, Chinese Taipei, Netherlands, Germany, Turkey, Malaysia, and the Russian Federation. (IEA 2017.)

Furthermore, the World Coal Association states that coal is a fossil fuel, i.e. the transformed residues of prehistoric vegetation, developed and formed throughout millions of years into energy-containing coal. Greenpeace lists strip mines as the most harmful since it leaves permanent scars on the environment, including soil erosion and ruination of agricultural land, leading to the pollution of waterways when topsoil is being washed by rain, mixing up natural landscapes.

Another environmental problem caused by coal, estimated by Greenpeace, are coal fires that can burn for decades, or even centuries, polluting our environment with chemicals and toxins that are invisible to the human eye. Greenpeace, which is campaigning to stop investments to any fossil fuel projects, has witnessed and published a case study/full report about Coal Mines Polluting South Kalimantan ́s Water. (Greenpeace, December 2014.) The report summarizes and reveals that intensive coal mining activities in this Indonesian region have led to the release of toxic pollution from coal mining into rivers while violating national standards for wastewater releases from coal mines.

While the damaging nature and risks of coal mining for the overall environment are well-known, the World Coal Association aims to develop and lead the global coal mining industry into a “pathway of zero emissions from coal” with advanced clean technologies allowing for the coal mining industry to minimize its impacts on the environment. The World Coal Association suggests that HELE power generation could reduce CO2 emissions from coal mining by more than a third.

How about methane emissions from coal mining? The United States Environmental Protection Agency EPA estimates that methane emissions from coal mining will continue to increase and be responsible for nine percent (9%) of total global methane emissions by 2020, whereby methane is many times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. According to various estimations, methane (CH4) is up to 25 times as powerful as a greenhouse gas in comparison with carbon dioxide (CO2).

Are zero methane emissions from coal mining a possibility? Learn more by watching ICE-CMM Poland ́s video “Clark Talkington – Achieving near-zero methane emissions from coal mine mining”:

Note from the author: I originally wrote and published this article on December 4th, 2017 on my website annemariayritys.com and on LinkedIn as a part of my climate change research. USGS states that in addition to peat, which is a precursor to coal, the four actual types of coal are anthracite, bituminous, subbituminous, and lignite. According to Leonard, Michaelides, and Michaelides (Energy Conversion and Management Volume 164, 2018), the substitution of coal with renewables can be optimized but not fully replaced. The World Coal Association lists electricity generation, steel production, cement manufacturing and the usage of coal as a liquid fuel as the four most significant purposes of the global coal industry. Moreover, the construction industry worldwide accounts for the vast majority of the need for steel and cement, which are used as building blocks in most of the construction, unless cement and steel are being replaced with other options.  

Anne-Maria Yritys
Anne-Maria Yritys
ANNE-MARIA is a business owner and a sustainable entrepreneur with a purpose of making this world a better place. She holds an MBA in international business management in addition to her many other professional certificates and qualifications. With a background in hospitality management and banking, she now runs her own small (online) business dedicated to helping other businesses and people to survive and to thrive in today's competitive global business landscape. With a many-sided international background, Anne-Maria communicates fluently in several languages. She has a passion for inspiring leadership and authentic, positive communication. She is a Global Citizen with a love for humanity who values ethical leadership and responsible decision-making. She believes that advanced communication, empowerment, knowledge, continuous development and learning contribute to sustainable economic development and a sustainable future in individuals, organizations, and nations across our Globe. Her mission and vision include accelerating positive change through effective change communication and leadership. She Tweets @annemariayritys & @GCCThinkActTank. Subscribe to Leading With Passion to receive my latest posts.
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Ken Vincent
Ken Vincent

Renewable energy is not the panacea for climate control that it has been touted to be. For example, it takes more fossil fuel to manufacture the batteries for an electric car than the car would use in its lifetime. Likewise with windmill farms and solar farms. I haven’t heard of any viable replacements for concrete or steel for use in construction projects.

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