Terrapass Pioneers Capture of Abandoned Mine Methane With Carbon Offset Funds

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Reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to safe levels is not only achieved by switching to nice clean new sources of electricity like solar and wind, but also by cleaning up after a nasty legacy of dirty old energy sources like coal.

Methane emitted from abandoned coal mines accounts for nearly two thirds of the methane emitted in the US each year (89 billion cubic feet out of 151 billion cubic feet of methane, according to the EPA) yet it is very hard to capture, as it is a very low concentration of methane in large volumes of air, and the EPA has never required it.

And who has an incentive to go to all that trouble? The coal mine has no more profit to be made: the mine is emptied. Investors are nowhere to be found. Yet it is in everybody’s interest to reduce these dangerous gases in the atmosphere. Market failure, right?

Carbon Offsets rescue us from market failure:

Enter Terrapass. They have long sold carbon offsets to those ethical individuals who; tired of waiting for government to address the rise of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, have volunteered to purchase their own carbon offsets. When pooled together, the carbon offset money creates the investment funds needed to reduce greenhouse gases, even when there is no natural market for a project, as in this case.

Terrapass began with investments in wind farms and other projects that reduce carbon emissions by substituting clean energy for dirty energy. But gradually, with investment lures from the Obama administration, more investors are seeing the gold in renewable energy for its market return, and renewables are taking off on their own, developing their own natural market.

So nowadays, more of Terrapass’ projects deal with methane-capture, typically over landfills.

First project to try methane capture from abandoned coal mines

But their latest offering is trailblazing a new kind of methane capture. Cambria 33 will be the first to clean up methane after coal mines are abandoned. TerraPass wants their projects to stand out as role models, so they try to find unique projects that demonstrate new technologies or creative end uses, or which make it clear that a sensible financial return is possible.

Cambria 33 is at an abandoned coal mine in Pennsylvania, once the largest in the county, in a state with a long history of reliance on coal. Since early 2008, the captured methane gas has been safely injected into a nearby natural gas pipeline, for use by local residents and businesses. Additionally a generator, also fueled by the captured methane gas, now powers the heavy equipment needed, which had previously relied on (mostly coal) grid power.

Without a price on carbon, the project would not pay for itself. Natural gas is already cheap and abundant, so normally there would be no market reason to go to all this trouble. TerraPass funds – carbon offsets – make up for that market failure. The reduction in methane emissions will be quantified and verified. This abandoned coal mine is one of many nationwide that have already been spewing methane for decades after closing.

Tell them what you think!

While many Terrapass carbon offset buyers might have an initial bad reaction to the idea of carbon capture of coal emissions (coal can never be clean!),  but in cases like this, after a mine has closed, carbon capture mitigates harm that is already there.

Its a tough call, but bravo to Terrapass for putting it out there, and then opening the idea up to a public conversation. They have now opened the Cambria 33 Project to comments.

Susan Kraemer@Twitter

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