Coal mining and coal use has historically had a negative impact on the environment, particularly by creating harmful gases including carbon dioxide and methane. The coal industry is working to improve these detrimental effects.
Coal is the dominant carbon dioxide emissions source related to electricity generation according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). Coal-fired power plants can reduce CO2 emissions by capturing the gas and injecting it into deep geological formations for storage. Mining also produces methane gas, which has a much greater global warming potential than carbon dioxide. Using technological advances, the industry has been successful in recovering the methane and preventing it from releasing it into the atmosphere. According to the Internation Energy Agency (IEA), replacing older coal-fired power plants with more efficient plants could significantly reduce the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Coal mining’s effect on the environment reaches beyond the atmosphere — the Earth also feels its effects.
Land: Coal mining can lead to soil erosion and dust, and it disturbs large tracts of land.
Water: Acid mine drainage, a metal-containing water that is formed by the chemical reaction between water and rocks containing sulphur-bearing minerals, can pollute water around a coal mine with heavy metals including copper, lead and mercury. Methods coal companies can use to minimize water pollution include building specialized water treatment plants and recycling contaminated water.
Plants and animals: Coal mining, particularly surface mining, can disturb land that is used for grazing, animal habitats, forests, crops and more. But the coal-mining industry makes rehabilitating land once mining is complete a top priority. After mining is complete, companies reshape the area, replace top soil and replant vegetation, making the reclaimed land suitable for wildlife, agriculture and more.
Pros and cons of coal as an energy source
|Currently inexpensive to extract
|Reliable and capable of generating large amounts of power
|Emits major greenhouse gases/acid rain
|High environmental impact from mining and burning
|Mining can be dangerous for miners
|Finite energy source