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Coal mines emit more methane than oil-and-gas sector, study finds

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Methane emissions from coal mines could be more than double previous estimates, according to a new study.

The fossil-fuel industry is understood to be one of the biggest sources of atmospheric methane, primarily due to leaks from the production of oil and gas.

However, a new paper published in the Journal of Cleaner Production suggests that coal mining may actually be a bigger contributor to levels of the greenhouse gas, with emissions set to grow considerably in the coming years.

This is even more pronounced when accounting for the impact of old coal mines that continue to seep methane long after they have been abandoned. To date, attempts to curb methane emissions from mines have been limited.

The authors of the new study say there are considerable gaps in the available data, and their results are based on extrapolations from the only nations for which sufficient information was available.

Nevertheless, their findings are the latest in a string of papers to suggest methane emissions from the fossil-fuel industry have been “severely underestimated”.

Mine methane

Methane is produced by natural sources, such as wetlands, as well as human activities, such as agriculture and fossil-fuel production.

While there is considerable uncertainty around the contribution from fossil fuels, which makes up around a fifth of the total, previous work has suggested oil-and-gas production is the biggest contributor.

Meanwhile, coal, which releases 75% more CO2 than gas per unit of energy, has been relatively overlooked when it comes to methane, a far more potent greenhouse gas.

But coal can be a source of methane, too. The gas escapes from coal seams and is often siphoned off through ventilation systems to ensure a safe environment for miners.

Coal-mine methane (CMM) is relatively understudied. But in its most recent World Energy Outlook (WEO), published in November 2019, the International Energy Agency (IEA) attempted to quantify the global total, settling on a figure of 40m tonnes (Mt) each year from operational coal mines.

The IEA says nations with deeper coal mines and less regulatory oversight have higher levels of these “indirect” methane emissions, with China by far the largest contributor.

Taking into account its climate impact relative to CO2, media coverage of the report compared these emissions to the combined impact of the international aviation and shipping sectors. The IEA coal mine emissions estimate also comes to around half the 79Mt it estimated for oil-and-gas operations in 2018.

However, the new study estimates that CMM in 2020 will be much higher than this, some 135bn cubic metres (bcm), equating to roughly 92Mt of methane.

The authors also note that, for the first time, they developed a methodology for estimating global methane emissions from old mining sites, suggesting a considerable role for abandoned mine methane (AMM), which in the past has been largely ignored. When factoring this in, coal methane emissions in 2020 rise to 114Mt.

The authors say that using their base year of 2010, methane emissions were also higher than other recent widely cited studies and inventories.

They calculate the total volume for that year as 85Mt, around 50% higher than that of the Community Emissions Data System (CEDS) and double the Emission Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR) value.

Uncertain modelling

To arrive at their updated estimates, the researchers developed a new model for calculating CMM.

The central calculation is straightforward – multiplying coal production, or tonnes of coal, by the emissions factor, which is how much methane is released (in cubic metres) for every tonne of coal mined.

As coal production data is relatively uniform across studies, Dr Nazar Kholod from the Joint Global Change Research Institute, who led the research, tells Carbon Brief their higher estimate for methane emissions is primarily the result of the emissions factor they used.

Some studies take the gas content of extracted coal as a simple emissions factor, but this does not account for all the methane escaping from surrounding seams. Establishing an “emissions factor coefficient” to multiply by the gas content can provide a more realistic estimate of total methane emissions, Kholod says.

There is very little national data available to calculate this figure and Kholod says that the IEA does not provide the emissions factors they use or details of how they derived them.

His team based its emissions factor coefficient on relatively detailed datasets from US and Ukrainian coal mines, the only ones available, according to Kholod. This resulted in a value of 1.7, which is within the range established in previous work.

Multiplying this value by its estimates of coal gas content gave the team the emissions factors they needed for the analysis.

However, there remains a lot of uncertainty due to issues such as how methane is measured, as well as the type of coal and depth of mines. All of this can vary a lot between countries, whereas this study relied on extrapolating globally from the US and Ukrainian data.

In the study, Kholod and his team note that, given these uncertainties, CMM levels could be roughly a third higher or lower than their estimated value. Besides better data collection at coal mines, they also mention the potential for using satellite data to independently sense-check emissions estimates with observations.

Dr Marielle Saunois, who leads the Global Methane Budget and was not involved in the new study, tells Carbon Brief that owing to the various complicating factors, calculating a global estimate for coal methane is very challenging. She also says that Kholod’s figure is not as far from previous attempts as it first appears:

“If you take their uncertainty and put that uncertainty around the other estimates, at some point there is an overlap.”

Kholod says their work “revealed a lot of gaps in data collection and reporting”, but says his team is not the first to suggest methane emissions from the fossil-fuel industry are being underreported.

Specifically, he points to a recent, widely publicised paper led by Dr Benjamin Hmiel that suggested fossil-fuel methane emissions could be 25-40% larger than previously thought. “Dr Hmiel and his colleagues used different methods, but reached a very similar conclusion,” he says.

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Hmiel tells Carbon Brief that he agrees the new paper adds further support to his work, which was unable to distinguish between emissions from coal, oil and gas.

However, he says coal is only “part of the puzzle” and not enough, on its own, to explain the discrepancies between methane inventories. “The emissions from oil and gas are likely higher than what is reported as well,” he says.

Capturing gas

The main goal of the study by Kholod and his colleagues was to look ahead and project the contribution of coal mines to future methane emissions.

It was based on the “middle-of-the-road” socio-economic development scenario SSP2, with different representative concentration pathways (RCPs) to account for different levels of climate action and, therefore, coal production.

Methane from coal mining continues to rise in most pathways, the study found, although in the low-emissions scenario (RCP2.6, corresponding to warming of below 2C) CMM drops beyond 2020 (see chart below).

While emissions from active mines still tend to be larger, the analysis suggests the inclusion of AMM in methane accounting is important.

CMM emissions are tied with coal production, but emissions from abandoned sites will likely continue growing or at least stay constant, even if dramatic climate action is taken.

Charts showing methane emissions under different RCP scenarios. While both coal-mine methane (CMM) and abandoned mine methane (AMM) are expected to increase in the coming decades, AMM is less affected by aggressive mitigation actions than CMM. All the lines are based on a “middle-of-the-road” socioeconomic development scenario (SSP2), with the darker colours corresponding to more extreme climate action, including cuts to coal production. Source: Kholod et al. (2020)

Charts showing methane emissions under different RCP scenarios. While both coal-mine methane (CMM) and abandoned mine methane (AMM) are expected to increase in the coming decades, AMM is less affected by aggressive mitigation actions than CMM. All the lines are based on a “middle-of-the-road” socioeconomic development scenario (SSP2), with the darker colours corresponding to more extreme climate action, including cuts to coal production. Source: Kholod et al. (2020)

The projections highlight the importance of preventing the release of methane from coal mines. However, as it stands, strategies to either store the gas for energy production or burn it off are not being widely implemented.

The IEA estimates that around 45% of oil-and-gas methane emissions could be avoided at no net cost, or even negative costs given the potential to make money from the gas being captured.

“With coal it’s really hard to do that,” Dave Jones from the climate thinktank Ember, formerly known as Sandbag, tells Carbon Brief. He says unlike with oil and gas, the methane from coal is not released in a pure form and can be expensive to capture.

Air passing through mine ventilation systems contains less than 1% methane, according to the IEA.

For Kholod, this again highlights the need for improved data collection:

“When active mines are closed, it is important to preserve information on the mine and prepare the mine to extract AMM in the future…it is clear that methane from closed mines will be a problem for years to come.”

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1 hour ago
Bend, Oregon
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A Twitch streamer is exposing coronavirus scams live

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Kitboga getting ready to out some scammers on Twitch.

Enlarge / Kitboga getting ready to out some scammers on Twitch. (credit: Twitch)

Earlier this week, live on Twitch, the streamer Kitboga attempted to place a wholesale order for an essential oil that, the woman on the phone implied to him, cured COVID-19.

There is, of course, no cure for COVID-19, the disease that has infected hundreds of thousands of people internationally since January. If there were, it wouldn’t consist of oregano oil, cinnamon, clove bud, and eucalyptus essential oils. Kitboga was on the phone with a scammer. Eleven thousand live viewers were watching him expose her.

Using a voice modulator, Kitboga assumed a persona called Barbara “Barbie” Kendal, explaining that he wanted to place a wholesale order for essential oils and distribute it to the Mayo Clinic in Arizona. Kitboga continued to press her for details about the product—How many people has it cured? Can I keep the cure on the countertop? Can I pour the cure into a hot bath after my bridge game?—which she readily answered, never correcting his terminology. The scammer, who said her name was Anne, took down the hospital’s address.

“They should call you Saint Anne,” said Kitboga, eliding the words into the sound of “satan.”

You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who interacts with scam artists more often than Kitboga. Several times a week, Kitboga goes live on Twitch, where an average of 7,000 viewers watch him mercilessly troll the sort of people who tell old ladies in nursing homes that they owe the IRS thousands of dollars—and get their MasterCard number. Under the guise of grandma Edna or valley girl Navaeh, Kitboga might let a scammer posing as an antivirus software salesperson install ransomware onto a computer or explain ad nauseum how to transfer bitcoin to India. Weaving absurd narratives out of these interactions, Kitboga frustrates as much of the scammers’ time as possible before the big reveal: he’s not Barbie, Edna, or Navaeh, and he thinks these people are scumbags.

“You are a liar and a thief. You should be locked up,” he told a COVID-19 scammer earlier this week. Viewers spammed happy alarm bells to his stream’s accompanying chat.

Earlier this month, the Federal Trade Commission issued a notice about coronavirus scams that referenced new robocalls and online offers advertising coronavirus treatments and at-home test kits. Noting that “there currently are no vaccines, pills, potions, lotions, lozenges, or other prescription or over-the-counter products available to treat or cure coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)—online or in stores,” the FTC warned consumers to be on high alert for con artists. Over the last couple of months, digital marketplaces like Amazon have struggled to remove bogus listings for miracle nasal sprays and canine testing kits.

So far, the FTC has issued stern letters to at least seven sellers of products claiming to treat or prevent COVID-19, including N-ergetics, GuruNanda LLC, and Herbal Amy LLC. New York’s attorney general sent conspiracy theorist Alex Jones a cease-and-desist order after he said his toothpaste could be a coronavirus “stopgate.” Bonnie Patten, the executive director of nonprofit watchdog Truth In Advertising, says a huge number of scams have cropped up around COVID-19, particularly in the massive supplement industry. “The FDA has made it fairly clear that, with its limited resources, it’s going to go after companies that are deceptively marketing supplements using disease treatment or specific health claims,” says Patten. To avoid Web crawlers looking for keywords, snake oil companies are implying they can help combat this virus without coming right out and saying so.

A couple of days ago, Kitboga, who keeps his real-life identity and location a secret, trawled Google for coronavirus-related scams. The search turned up an article under the Fox News header—though not on any Fox News site—that read, “While the world is waiting for a vaccine, one mom has found a solution to fight back against the coronavirus outbreak.” While the byline named an actual Fox News editor, the article was fake. It advertised a product called Immunity Blend, which promised to “distribute benefits” to entire households and “protect against environmental threats.” The fake article claimed that “even if you do catch a virus, the symptoms and time it affects you [sic] experience, are greatly reduced.”

Said the mom in the ad, “I am not worried about the coronavirus hitting our family because I have three ways to fight back in just one bottle of botanical oils.”

The concoction contains eucalyptus oil, which the ad claims has been “proven effective” against the swine flu and Herpes type 1. “Could it also kill the 2020 coronavirus?” it asks. The website links to an order form, underneath which a warning in red booms: “Due to global outbreaks and pandemic, demand is HIGH and supply is limited for our Powerful Immunity Blend.” The website and Facebook page, which was created March 16, are still up.

Kitboga's Twitch page.

Kitboga's Twitch page. (credit: Twitch)

To investigate, Kitboga called a phone number listed on the ad. “I said my boyfriend was coughing up blood and I don’t have the money to go to a doctor,” Kitboga tells Wired. He had put on his valley girl persona. The woman on the line told him that the Immunity Blend would save the boyfriend, Kitboga says. He hung up, shocked. “I didn’t expect them to be so blatant about it.” The company behind Immunity Blend did not respond to Wired's request for comment.

On-stream the next day, Kitboga called the number again. “I saw the article on Fox about how there was a mom who found a solution for the coronavirus,” said Kitboga in the voice of an elderly man. “Yes,” acknowledged the customer service agent.

“You’ve got to hand it to her. She’s probably very smart. There’s scientists all over the world trying to figure it out. Thankfully she did,” Kitboga said on the stream, raising an eyebrow to his viewers. “I just hope that eventually, she’ll let the government know. Do you have any of that available, the cure?”

“Yes sir, we have it. We have a limited stock, however,” said the customer service agent. The price was $40 per bottle; they only sold packs of five.

On a third call, this time with a different representative, Kitboga asked whether the oil was a vaccine, and finally, the agent corrected him: “It’s an essential oil that’s there to protect you and your immune system.” Still, the rep said, he and his father had been using it with good results.

On his livestreamed calls to scammers, Kitboga tries to remain calm and collected, persisting in his line of questioning to glean as much information as possible. Over the last three years, he’s dealt with scammers who try to squeeze thousands of dollars from old ladies under the false threat of arrest or imprisonment. (In fact, he got into this line of work after a scammer took advantage of his real-life grandmother, who had dementia.) This wave of COVID-19 snake oil, he says, feels different.

“I think a lot of the scams so far are based around the fear and uncertainty of it,” says Kitboga. “I’m not a psychologist, but I imagine you are less likely to make rational decisions when you’re afraid. Obviously there’s lots of fear right now. When the scammers I talk to say things like, ‘Ma’am, if you don’t give me my money back you’ll go to jail’ or ‘I’m calling the police right now,’ they’re trying to put you in that fearful, uncertain situation. In this case, we already are in that situation. So the scammers are one step ahead.”

Kitboga says the next scam to look out for is telemarketers pretending to be government officials. People who don’t know better might give their bank account information to a so-called government official who’s offering to unload a no-strings-attached $1,200 government aid check. He plans to expose them on his Twitch channel when he nails them down.

“When I heard about the stimulus, I started thinking, ‘There are gonna be scammers. Someone’s gonna call and say, ‘We’re the government trying to give you $1,000 or $2,000, and you have to pay us money.”

This story originally appeared on wired.com.

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3 hours ago
Bend, Oregon
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$2 Trillion Coronavirus Relief Bill Presents A Reckoning For Libertarians

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Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., at the Capitol on Friday, tried to force a recorded vote on the $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill. Massie and other libertarians worry the bill will ruin the United States

In years to come, how will fiscal conservatives who voted for $2 trillion attack the cost of budget items that will now look like rounding error or "decimal dust"?"

(Image credit: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images)

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Bend, Oregon
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Charter gives techs $25 gift cards instead of hazard pay during pandemic

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A Charter Spectrum service vehicle.

Enlarge / A Charter Spectrum vehicle. (credit: Charter)

Charter Communications is giving its cable technicians $25 restaurant gift cards instead of hazard pay for going into customer homes during the coronavirus pandemic, BuzzFeed reported yesterday. The gift cards are a "token of our appreciation," an internal email from management on Monday said, BuzzFeed reported. Of course, many restaurants are closed during the pandemic, so restaurant gift cards aren't the most useful perk Charter management could have chosen.

"These gift cards never expire, so if you choose a restaurant that is currently not open, the card will remain valid for future use... Please take some time out of your busy day to enjoy a meal and recharge," the email read.

Several Charter employees did not appreciate the minimal gesture. "It's really insensitive, it shows they don't care," one New York City-based technician told BuzzFeed. "You think a gift card is supposed to make us feel better?"

No hand sanitizer or gloves

BuzzFeed previously reported that Charter technicians are being sent to customer homes without protective equipment such as masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer. The internal email to Charter technicians said the company has now "secured access to hand sanitizer and gloves, which would be available for workers to use 'in the next few weeks,'" according to BuzzFeed. Numerous customers have asked Charter techs "why they aren't in full protective gear."

A Charter spokesperson told BuzzFeed that "The response from the technicians to all our recent changes, along with the gift card gesture, has been very positive."

Charter, operator of Spectrum TV and Internet service, is the second-largest cable company in the US after Comcast. Charter has been slow to let call-center workers and other office-based employees work from home during the pandemic. We interviewed several Charter employees about their work conditions last week, with one saying a call center is "an absolute nightmare breeding ground for germs on a normal basis."

By contrast, Comcast and AT&T have quickly moved many employees into work-from-home situations and given extra pay to workers who have to interact with the public. AT&T's front-line employees are getting a 20-percent bonus, for example.

Home-Internet service is more essential than ever with Americans working at home en masse, so Internet providers have been exempt from state-issued orders to close businesses and shelter in place. Charter advised its employees in a memo this week that they should not be stopped by authorities from going to work.

"If authorities stop you, you should merely show them your Charter employee identification badge and explain to them that you work for a communications company that provides essential services," Charter said in an email that employees shared with Ars. "If for some unforeseen reason you have difficulties with any law enforcement in commuting to work or carrying out your job duties, please contact your supervisor who will contact one of our attorneys right away."

AT&T issued a similar notice to retail stores.

No free service for people with unpaid bills

Charter was also criticized by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for not letting customers with unpaid bills take advantage of free service during the pandemic. Charter on March 13 said it would give new customers with children in school free Internet access for 60 days. "But as teachers, elected officials, and friends directed low-income families to those companies for help, some soon learned they couldn't take advantage of the deals... because of previously unpaid bills," Chalkbeat reported yesterday.

Optimum, which is owned by Altice, initially imposed the same restriction but waived the rule after being contacted by Chalkbeat. "Spectrum has not yet followed suit. Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday evening the practice was 'unacceptable,'" Chalkbeat reported.

We contacted Charter this morning and will update this story if the company provides more information.

Update at 3:15pm ET: Charter told us it has reversed its policy on free service for new customers, but apparently only in New York, saying "we are making the 60-day free Internet offer available to New York customers with outstanding balances." As for employees, Charter noted it is giving its staff "15 additional days of paid leave they can use for any COVID-19-related reason," and has "stopped professional installations in markets where self-install is available to reduce in-home visits by our technicians." There's still no hazard pay for employees, but Charter said it "will continue to monitor both our employee and business continuity plans and adjust as needed."

Disclosure: The Advance/Newhouse Partnership, which owns 13 percent of Charter, is part of Advance Publications. Advance Publications owns Condé Nast, which owns Ars Technica.

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3 hours ago
Bend, Oregon
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SF Bar Owner to Yelp: ‘Fuck All of These People Entirely’

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Like many business owners across the country, Jamie Zawinski, the owner of SoMa nightclub DNA Lounge, was less than pleased to learn that a partnership between Yelp and GoFundMe meant that the Yelp listing for his business now had a fundraising button on it that he hadn’t consented to. “What the fuck?” he said regarding the move in an email to Eater. “Seriously, what the fucking fuck?”

San Francisco-based Yelp had announced its partnership with GoFundMe on March 24, but didn’t make clear that this was in the cards. Its blog post on a donation matching plan said only that:

We are working with GoFundMe to provide a seamless way for businesses hit hardest by the pandemic to start fundraisers that can be displayed on their Yelp pages. Users will see a “Donate” icon on participating businesses’ Yelp page, inspiring them to take action. This gives the community a simple and easy way to show support for their favorite local businesses.

“Restaurants, nightlife, beauty and fitness and active life businesses are eligible for the GoFundMe feature on Yelp,” the company said, linking to another blog post that said:

...an initial set of eligible businesses in the metropolitan areas of Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego will begin seeing a “Donate” button (linking to a GoFundMe fundraiser for the business) on their Yelp Pages. Over time, eligible businesses nationwide will have the ability to set up a GoFundMe fundraiser on their Yelp Pages if they choose to do so.

As many of these businesses are down to skeleton crews that are working long hours to keep their life’s work alive, its perhaps unsurprising that the first some heard of the program was an email sent by Yelp that told them that the company had launched a fundraiser on their behalf, and that the only way to shut it down would be to “claim” the fundraiser, then follow a set of instructions to close it down.

The email Yelp sent to business owners requires additional work to close down a fundraiser many never asked for
Jamie Zawinski

Others, like Nick Cho, the co-owner of Cow Hollow and Berkeley’s Wrecking Ball Coffee, tweeted that Yelp and GoFundMe appended a fundraiser to one of his locations without permission, but not the other. “Wtf is this?!” Cho asked. “Hey [Yelp] please take this down.”

East Bay resident Susie Cagle tweeted that she started “going through Yelp and looking up the Oakland bars and restaurants I know to give them a heads up,” and received responses like the one below from an unnamed business owner, who said “I had no idea and I’m outraged.”

“Yelp is fucking scum,” a San Francisco restaurateur texted Eater SF regarding the GoFundMe move last night. “Do they honestly have time to fuck with this shit right now?” texted another.

When contacted by Eater, a Yelp spokesperson says “we have paused the automatic rollout of this feature,” as “it has come to our attention that some businesses did not receive a notification with opt-out instructions.”

However, Zawinski did indeed the notification — and that didn’t seem to be the issue for him, as much as the rollout without consent. “I don’t really have a lot to say about this,” Zawinski told Eater, except, “Fuck all of these people entirely...Really, get all the way right up in there and fuck them.”

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13 hours ago
“we have paused the automatic rollout of this feature,”
Bend, Oregon
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Couple shaves their eyebrows as motivation to stay home during COVID-19 pandemic

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Justin Young

Justin Young and Justine Manuel in Kamloops, B.C., shaved off their eyebrows as extra incentive to stay home and avoid socializing.

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1 day ago
Eyebrows don’t always grow back the same so you know, good luck
Bend, Oregon
1 day ago
I know that some people always pluck them out and then draw them back on, so maybe they can do that.
1 day ago
Vancouver Island, Canada
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