February 15, 2024
Mine Methane Capture Investments Are Investments in Local Economies

By Mike Moore

For many energy-producing states in the U.S., shifts in the economy and jobs markets have come alongside shifting energy demands. Take West Virginia, for example, where 130,000 coal miners were once employed at the industry’s peak; as of 2022, just a tenth of that number—13,000—were still employed as coal miners. A number of trends, including increased mechanization and automation and declining demand for coal, have contributed to West Virginia’s economic challenges as yearly coal production in the state has been halved since peaks of over 180 million tons as recently as the 1990s.

More broadly, West Virginia’s unemployment rate is the eighth highest in the country at 4.3 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). At the same time, the state’s labor force participation rate is just 55.3 percent, which ranks 49th nationally and indicates that just 55 percent of West Virginians are actively working or looking for work. That is, 4.3 percent of the 55.3 percent actively looking for work are identified as being unemployed.

As the country undergoes changes in how we generate our energy, there is a commonsense solution that not only reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions but also takes advantage of an underutilized resource abundant in historically coal producing areas. In addition to its environmental benefits, capturing fugitive methane—a potent GHG—from the atmosphere can have strong economic benefits for communities like West Virginia that exist around the country.

At both the state and federal levels, there has been growing momentum to expand incentives for mine methane capture technologies. For example, the U.S. Treasury recently announced proposed guidance for hydrogen production tax credits, which could include incentives for capturing fugitive methane for use as a feedstock in the hydrogen production economy (read more about this application of coal mine methane (CMM) in the Waste Gas Capture Initiative’s (WGCI) recent comment letter). The Virginia Department of Energy (DOE) also recently issued a report on mine methane capture, detailing the “job opportunities and capital investment” that would be spurred by mine methane capture incentives. The report notes in particular that regions impacted by the energy transition, like southwest Virginia, would benefit most from mine methane capture-spurred economic growth and job creation.

No state serves to benefit more from mine methane capture incentivization than West Virginia, however, given that capturing and utilizing mine methane would open an entirely new category of energy production for the state. Despite decreases in coal production in recent years, West Virginia remains the top state for CMM emissions by volume—to the tune of 11.5 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2019. Estimates for West Virginia indicate that CMM capture would reduce emissions by 236 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent over a 20-year timeframe, creating over 1,400 jobs, and contributing $2.7 billion to West Virginia’s gross domestic product (GDP). 

That’s why the WGCI supports capture efforts for CMM, defined as fugitive methane emitted from coal mining and abandoned coal mines. Data from the Coalbed Methane Outreach Program (CMOP) at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finds that CMM emissions amounted to approximately eight percent of total U.S. methane emissions in 2019. Largely due to limited incentives for CMM capture, less than one percent of coal mines currently capture fugitive methane.

Expanding incentives for fugitive methane capture and pathways for fugitive methane utilization are increasingly important steps for local economies. In addition to economic benefits, mine methane capture efforts will reduce GHG emissions and foster increased energy resilience through diversity of supply. 

The WGCI looks forward to working with state and federal officials as momentum around this commonsense solution grows. To learn more about the Waste Gas Capture Initiative and mine methane capture, please visit https://www.wastegascapture.com/.

Mike Moore is the Executive Director of the Waste Gas Capture Initiative.