Global warming is clearly one of the pre-eminent environmental challenges of our time. Yet, when some federal regulators are presented with an opportunity to meet the challenge, they prefer to do nothing.
Case in point: the expansion of the West Elk mine northeast of Paonia in Colorado. There, Arch Coal wants to expand its underground coal mining operations under a roadless area. Let's ignore that burning coal is a major source of heat-trapping global warming gases. To safely mine the coal in the expansion zone, Arch Coal must get rid of the explosive methane in the seam. To do that, Arch will drill hundreds of wells and simply vent the valuable methane directly into the air. That's a global warming problem because methane is one of the most powerful GW gases, trapping heat 20 times more effectively than CO2.
And the amounts of heat-trapping gases Arch will vent are signifiant – billions of cubic feet; enough to power 35,000 homes for more than a decade; an amount equivalent to that produced by more than 1 per cent of all of the cars and trucks in Colorado.
Arch will drill the vent holes on Forest Service land. The coal is federally owned. The industry is regulated by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). But none of these agencies plans to do anything about the wanton waste of methane and the global warming impacts that will follow.
Even though Forest Service higher-ups asked the local national forest to consider flaring (burning) the methane, the forest refused to do so (Burning methane reduces its global warming impacts by up to 90%.).They based their refusal on a letter from MSHA saying flaring was too dangerous, too speculative, never been done, so they shouldn't even consider it without years of testing.
Which is largely baloney. Seven active mines around the world now flare methane, including several in Australia. The West Elk mine already captures some methane and burns it to heat the mine in winter. If these agencies had courage (or sense), they could require that methane be flared or captured and used. Sadly, the will isn't there to tackle the problem.
The State of Colorado, which now has a global warming strategy could step up to the plate given the feds' shirking. We'll soon find out if the state has the courage the federal government lacked.