“Nasty little rascals” — coal fires responsible for hundreds of millions of tons of CO2

You learn something new every day. It turns out that runaway coal bed fires can burn underground for millenia. As we dig up more and more coal, such fires become increasingly common. Uncontrolled coal bed fires in China now account for about 200 million tons of carbon dioxide annually — roughly as much as that produced by all the cars and trucks in the United States.

This topic has received some coverage online, but it’s the first I’ve heard of it. The most celebrated case locally is Centralia, PA, a mining town that caught fire in 1962. Officials struggled for decades to contain the fire before finally abandoning their efforts in the 1980s, opting instead to purchase the entire town and relocate the residents. A diehard population of 12 continues to squat on their old properties, in the midst of a warped and smoldering landscape.


As with so many other thing related to global warming, coal fires are one of those vexed problems that simply don’t yield to easy solutions. Estimated costs for extinguishing just the Centralia fire are north of $660 million.


There’s a possible role for carbon markets to play here as a form of financing for cleaning up some of these, although I don’t have the slightest sense of what the price per ton would be. Prevention is probably a better long term strategy.

Via the Freakonomics blog. More pictures available at Pruned.

Author Bio


Comments Disabled

  1. Simmons - October 27, 2007

    Just like how the warming earth is melting the icecaps, which REFLECT sunlight, exposing dark water, which ABSORB sunlight.

  2. tony marmont - October 31, 2007

    Did you knw that all coal all over the world contains 4 to 10 ppm of Uranium 235,( why is this so ? ) this is concntrated by the burning process into 10 times that level in the fly ash, coal from Delaware contains the hi=ghest level at 2% Uranium, what are the radiactive emissions from coal fired power stations ?
    Tony Marmont .prof.

  3. Anonymous - October 31, 2007

    i was under the impression that aside from the level of pollution the degree of mental retardation in this area is staggeration

  4. Bob - November 5, 2007

    Lets take advantage of the situation. Run some pipes fill them with water, poof geothermal energy.