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Queensland coalmine fire a ‘disaster’ for climate say environmental groups
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Queensland coalmine fire a ‘disaster’ for climate say environmental groups

Conservation groups say a fire that has been burning since Saturday at an underground coalmine is Queensland is an “environmental disaster” that highlights the risks of methane gas to workers, community health and the climate.

The fire at Anglo American’s Grosvenor coalmine in Moranbah broke out after methane ignited on the longwall coalface. It was still burning on Tuesday.

The mine was evacuated on Saturday and the company has said no workers were harmed.

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The Australian Conservation Foundation’s methane campaigner, Piper Rollins, said the incident was “nothing short of an environmental disaster” that highlighted the potent risks of methane. She said smoke caused by the fire could result in a “toxic cocktail of pollutants” moving to nearby communities.

Rollins said methane was “a toxic climate-heating gas” 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide, and that it was “turbocharging heatwaves, bushfires and coral bleaching events”. She said the government should explain how the incident would be factored into Australia’s emissions accounting.

Methane leaks from coalmines. When it burns the emissions released are CO2.

The International Energy Agency has estimated that methane emissions from Australian coal and gas mines could be 64% higher than federal government estimates suggest.

“There’s been a massive release of climate heating methane and other gases as a result of this fire. Who’s going to be held responsible for that and how is it going to be accounted for?” she said.

“Our NGER (national greenhouse and energy reporting) system relies on factor-based emissions reporting and we don’t yet have a system for reconciling blowouts.

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“This fire will have emissions impacts for both Queensland and Australia … there should be a serious question about how is that pollution going to be accounted for in our state and national inventories.”

A spokesperson for the minister for climate change, Chris Bowen, said ‘the government understands the primary focus of the mine operator and state regulators is ensuring the safety of the mine.

“Our department and [the] Clean Energy Regulator are aware of the incident and are responsible for ensuring that relevant requirements under the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Scheme and measurement requirements for the National Inventory under the Paris Agreement are met.”

In its most recent statement on Tuesday, Anglo American said the amount of smoke at the site had reduced after work to temporarily seal the mine from the surface.

It said a mobile extinguisher unit that pumped nitrogen into the mine to try to starve the fire of oxygen was fully operational.

“All monitors are reporting readings within acceptable limits, indicating no impact on community health from smoke or airborne contaminants. However, anyone concerned should seek medical advice,” the statement said.

The Queensland Conservation Council said it was welcome news that no workers had been injured.

“But this fire clearly shows coal companies can’t continue to downplay their methane emissions,” energy strategist, Clare Silcock said.

“Federally, (climate change and energy) minister Chris Bowen is currently considering changes to the way that companies report methane and we hope this incident causes him to bring in strict regulations.”

Source: theguardian.com