Energy Environment 3 April, 2023 8:00 am   
COMMENTS: Joanna Słowińska

Report: Will the EU methane regulation bury Polish coal mining?

Documents. Picture by Freepik Documents. Picture by Freepik

The EU’s new regulation on methane has been coming back like a boomerang in recent weeks. The regulation is being discussed in the European Parliament and, according to the Polish government (and not only), may lead to the collapse of the Polish coal and coke mining sector.

The regulations that are currently being discussed in the European Parliament introduce a standard of five tons of methane per 1,000 tons of non-coking coal mined from 2027. By 2031, this will be three tons of gas per 1,000 tons of coal, including coking coal. The original version allowed emissions of 0.5 tons of methane.

Government officials have warned that the introduction of methane regulations in the European Union could result in the death of the Polish thermal and coking coal sector. In recent weeks, they have called for the solidarity of members of various political options to support the “Polish interest” in the European Commission. This happened and on March 25, 2023, Polish MEPs signed a declaration in which they announced the blocking of the EU regulation. They do not agree with the current draft of the document proposed by the European Union.

A day earlier, Law and Justice MEP Jadwiga Wiśniewska had issued an interpellation to the European Commission. “Coking coal is a raw material of strategic importance for European industry, which is the basis for ecological and digital transformation,”  Wiśniewska emphasized.

Jadwiga Wiśniewska reminded that coking coal was necessary for the production of iron and steel, which is used for the production of wind turbines and solar panels, and on the market so far there are no large-scale technologies replacing it, so it is an indispensable material in the process of carrying out a successful energy transition.

Methane is one of the greenhouse gases in addition to carbon dioxide covered by the EU ETS emissions trading system. The European Union monitors methane emissions and is considering introducing regulations to limit them, like the methane regulation under discussion in the European Parliament. However, this is a bone of contention with industry defenders, because coking coal, whose future is threatened by these regulations, is a strategic raw material of the European Union. It makes it possible to produce steel and other industrial products necessary, among other things, for the energy transformation.

The methane regulation also raises concerns among lawyers. Wojciech Wrochna, partner and head of the Energy, Infrastructure and Environment Group at Kochański & Partners law firm, explained why in an article for “The implementation of the EU’s energy transition policy will contribute to an increase in market demand for steel and thus to an increase in demand for coking coal. Currently, there is no more efficient and economical method of steel production – it is one of the key products for the success of the green transformation of the economy. Wind turbines are an excellent example: around 140 tons of steel is used to produce a single turbine. One ton of steel involves the extraction of about 560 kilograms of coking coal, from which in the process of combustion (coking process), at a temperature of more than 1000 degrees Celsius, about 400 kilograms of coke are made. This means that up to 80 tons of coking coal is needed for one wind turbine. So, coking coal is an essential component in the construction of energy infrastructure (onshore, offshore), the development of transport (land, sea, air), as well as vehicles powered by electric power, including battery – powered, hybrid and those that use hydrogen fuel cells,” he illustrated.

Nevertheless, Ember, a green think tank, claims that the methane regulation to combat methane emissions from mines has various loopholes, and the greatest reduction potential is… in Poland. The analysis describes the level of methane emissions from mines in Europe and what impact the so-called methane regulation will have on them. Coal mines are the largest source of such emissions in the European Union, and the regulation will eliminate only half of them. The mines emit 950,000 tons of methane per year, according to data from 2020. That’s more than the oil and gas sectors combined. Two-thirds of this comes from Polish coal mines (576,000 tons).

“Seven coal mines emit all of Poland’s reported emissions for thermal hard coal, whilst producing less than half of it,” Ember said, and recommended a plan where closing these mines will be a priority. Replacing them with mines with lower methane emissions would reduce emissions in Europe by 25 percent. Ember also wants coking coal, responsible for 3 million tons of methane emissions, to be covered by the methane regulation by 2050 if they are not stopped. In return the think tank proposes capturing methane from a mine in Romania, which could yield 0.5 TWh of electricity.

Selecting the path

Member states are following the trail of energy transition, where the next tree with the appropriate sign is chosen by the European Union. The EU does this through regulations based on accepted climate policy and countries must adapt to it. The question must be asked whether the rules should not be tailored to the individual capacity of each state. This, among other things, is what Poles are calling for.

“EU law, which regulates these issues in increasing detail, should not, however, give rise to internal contradictions, which, in addition, can negatively affect the achievement of climate goals. If so, it must envisage viable alternatives, which would have to lead to even faster development of these hydrogen technologies. The final shape of the regulation will show which path will be chosen. However, one thing is certain – decarbonization of the industry should be carried out in a sustainable way both ecologically and economically,” Wojciech Wrochna wrote.

Jędrzej Stachura