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.