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Coalbed methane

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Coalbed methane (CBM) is a form of natural gas extracted from coal beds. In recent decades it has
become an important source of energy in United States, Canada, and other countries. Australia has rich
deposits where it is known as coal seam gas.
Also called coalbed gas, the term refers to methane adsorbed into the solid matrix of the coal. It is called
'sweet gas' because of its lack of hydrogen sulfide. The presence of this gas is well known from its
occurrence in underground coal mining, where it presents a serious safety risk. Coalbed methane, often
referred to as CBM, is distinct from a typical sandstone or other conventional gas reservoir, as the
methane is stored within the coal by a process called adsorption. The methane is in a near-liquid state,
lining the inside of pores within the coal (called the matrix). The open fractures in the coal (called the
cleats) can also contain free gas or can be saturated with water.
Unlike much natural gas from conventional reservoirs, coalbed methane contains very little heavier
hydrocarbons such as propane or butane, and no natural gas condensate. It often contains up to a few
percent carbon dioxide. Some coal seams, such as those in certain areas of the Illawarra Coal Measures in
NSW, Australia, contain little methane, with the predominant coal seam gas being carbon
Permeability of coal bed methane reservoirs
Permeability is key factor for CBM. Coal itself is a low permeability reservoir. Almost all the
permeability of a coal bed is usually considered to be due to fractures, which in coal are in the form of
cleats. The permeability of the coal matrix is negligible by comparison. Coal cleats are of two types: butt
cleats and face cleats, which occur at nearly right angles. The face cleats are continuous and provide paths
of higher permeability while butt cleats are non-continuous and end at face cleats. Hence, on a small
scale, fluid flow through coal bed methane reservoirs usually follows rectangular paths. The ratio of
permeabilities in the face cleat direction over the butt cleat direction may range from 1:1 to 17:1. Because
of this anisotropic permeability, drainage areas around coal bed methane wells are often elliptical in
Intrinsic properties affecting gas production
Gas contained in coal bed methane is mainly methane and trace quantities of ethane, nitrogen, carbon
dioxide and few other gases. Intrinsic properties of coal as found in nature determine the amount of gas
that can be recovered.
Porosity of coal bed reservoirs is usually very small ranging from 0.1 to 10%.
Adsorption capacity
Adsorption capacity of coal is defined as the volume of gas adsorbed per unit mass of coal usually
expressed in SCF (standard cubic feet, the volume at standard pressure and temperature conditions)
gas/ton of coal. The capacity to adsorb depends on the rank and quality of coal. The range is usually
between 100 to 800 SCF/ton for most coal seams found in the US. Most of the gas in coal beds is in the
adsorbed form. When the reservoir is put into production, water in the fracture spaces are drained first.
This leads to a reduction of pressure enhancing />desorption of gas from the matrix.
Fracture permeability

As discussed before, the fracture permeability acts as the major channel for the gas to flow. The higher the
permeability, higher is the gas production. For most coal seams found in the US, the permeability lies in
the range of 0.1 to 50 milliDarcies.
Thickness of formation and initial reservoir pressure
The thickness of the formation may not be directly proportional to the volume of gas produced in some
For Example: It has been observed in the Cherokee Basin in Southeast Kansas that a well with a single
zone of 1-2 ft of pay can produce excellent gas rates, whereas an alternate formation with twice the
thickness can produce next to nothing. Some coal and or shale formations may have higher gas
concentrations regardless of formation thickness. This is likely case specific depending on geology.
The pressure difference between the well block and the sand face should be as high as possible as is the
case with any producing reservoir in general.
Other properties
Other affecting parameters include coal density, initial gas phase concentration, critical gas saturation,
irreducible water saturation, relative permeability to water and gas at conditions of Sw = 1.0 and Sg = 1Swirreducible respectively.
To extract the gas, a steel-encased hole is drilled into the coal seam (100 - 1500 meters below ground). As
the pressure within the coal seam declines, due to the hole to the surface or the pumping of small amounts
of water from the coalbed, both gas and 'produced water' escape to the surface through tubes. Then the
gas is sent to a compressor station and into natural gas pipelines. The 'produced water' is either reinjected
into isolated formations, released into streams, used for irrigation, or sent to evaporation ponds. The water
typically contains dissolved solids such as sodium bicarbonate and chloride.
Coalbed methane wells often produce at lower gas rates than conventional reservoirs, typically peaking at
near 300,000 cubic feet (8,500 m3) per day (about 0.100 m/s), and can have large initial costs. The
production profiles of CBM wells are typically characterized by a "negative decline" in which the gas
production rate initially increases as the water is pumped off and gas begins to desorb and flow. A dry
CBM well does not look different from a standard gas well.
The methane desorption process follows a curve (of gas content vs. reservoir pressure) called a Langmuir
isotherm. The isotherm can be analytically described by a maximum gas content (at infinite pressure), and
the pressure at which half that gas exists within the coal. These parameters (called the Langmuir volume
and Langmuir pressure, respectively) are properties of the coal, and vary widely. A coal in Alabama and a
coal in Colorado may have radically different Langmuir parameters, despite otherwise similar coal
As production occurs from a coal reservoir, the changes in pressure are believed to cause changes in the
porosity and permeability of the coal. This is commonly known as matrix shrinkage/swelling. As the gas
is desorbed, the pressure exerted by the gas inside the pores decreases, causing them to shrink in size and
restricting gas flow through the coal. As the pores shrink, the overall matrix shrinks as well, which may
eventually increase the space the gas can travel through (the cleats), increasing gas flow.

The potential of a particular coalbed as a CBM source depends on the following criteria. Cleat
density/intensity: cleats are joints confined within coal sheets. They impart permeability to the coal seam.
A high cleat density is required for profitable exploitation of CBM. Also important is the maceral
composition: maceral is a microscopic, homogeneous, petrographic entity of a corresponding sedimentary
rock. A high vitrinite composition is ideal for CBM extraction, while inertinite hampers the same.
The rank of coal has also been linked to CBM content: a vitrinite reflectance of 0.8-1.5% has been found
to imply higher productivity of the coalbed.
The gas composition must be considered, because natural gas appliances are designed for gas with a
heating value of about 1000 BTU (British thermal units) per cubic foot, or nearly pure methane. If the gas
contains more than a few percent non-flammable gasses such as nitrogen or carbon dioxide, it will have to
be blended with higher-BTU gas to achieve pipeline quality. If the methane composition of the coalbed
gas is less than 92%, it may not be commercially marketable.
Environmental impacts
CBM wells are connected by a network of roads, pipelines, and compressor stations. These structures can
compromise the scenic quality of the landscape, fragment wildlife habitat, and displace local wildlife
populations. Over time, wells may be spaced more closely in order to extract the remaining methane.
Additionally, the produced water may contain undesirable concentrations of dissolved substances. Water
withdrawal may depress aquifers over a large area and affect groundwater flows[1].
In Australia, produced water is typically evaporated in large ponds due to the high salinity of the water.
Recently a number of gas companies have commenced operating or developing plant to treat the product
water for use as domestic supply, cooling water for power stations or discharge to streams. These plant
typically use reverse osmosis to treat the product water.[citation needed]
The environmental impacts of CBM development are considered by various governmental bodies during
the permitting process and operation which provide opportunities for public comment and intervention.[2]
Operators are required to obtain building permits for roads, pipelines and structures, obtain wastewater
(produced water) discharge permits, and prepare Environmental Impact Statements[3]. As with other
natural resource utilization activities, the application and effectiveness of environmental laws, regulation,
and enforcement varies with location. Violations of applicable laws and regulations are addressed through
regulatory bodies and criminal and civil judicial proceedings.
Several environmental and conservation organizations work specifically on advocating for responsible
coal bed methane development. Northern Plains Resource Council has been leading this fight in Montana
since 1999, and the Citizens Concerned About Coalbed Methane has worked out of Fernie, BC since
Estimated methane reserves vary, however a 1997 estimate from the U.S. Geological Survey predicts
more than 700 trillion cubic feet (20 Tm) of methane within the US. At a natural gas price of US$6.05
per million Btu (US$5.73/GJ), that volume is worth US$4.37 trillion. At least 100 trillion cubic feet (2.8
Tm) of it is economically viable to produce.
In Canada, British Columbia is estimated to have approximately 90 trillion cubic feet (2,500 km3) of
coalbed gas. Alberta, to date the only province with commercial coalbed methane wells, is estimated to
have approximately 1701012 cu ft (4,800 km3) of economically recoverable coalbed methane.[4]

High natural gas prices are making CBM economically viable where it previously may not have been.
Currently considered a non-renewable resource, there is evidence by the Alberta Research Council,
Alberta Geological Survey and others showing coalbed methane is a renewable resource, because the
bacterial action that formed the methane is ongoing. The assertion of being renewable, however, has itself
become one of debate since it has also been shown that the dewatering that accompanies CBM production
destroys the conditions needed for the bacteria to produce methane.[5] In addition, the rate of formation
of additional methane is undetermined. This debate is currently causing a right of ownership issue in the
Canadian province of Alberta, as only non-renewable resources can legally be owned by the province.[6]
Areas with coalbed methane
Bowen Basin, (Fairview, Scotia, Spring Gully), Queensland, Australia
Surat Basin, Berwyndale, Windibri, Kogan, Daandine, Tipton West, Queensland, Australia
Telkwa coalfield, British Columbia
Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin, Alberta
United States
Black Warrior Basin, Alabama
Cahaba Basin, Alabama
Cherokee Basin, Kansas
Slater Dome Basin, Wyoming and Colorado
Powder River Basin, Wyoming and Montana
Raton Basin, Colorado and New Mexico
San Juan Basin, Colorado and New Mexico
Montana State University; Frequently Asked Questions; Coal Bed Methane (CBM)
State of Montana Department of Environment Quality; Coal Bed Methane; Federal, State, and Local
Laws, Regulations, and Permits - That May Be Required
State of Montana Department of Environment Quality; Final Statewide Oil and Gas EIS and Proposed
Amendment of the Powder River and Billings RMPs
^ John Squarek and Mike Dawson, Coalbed methane expands in Canada, Oil & Gas Journal, 24 July
2006, p.37-40.
Coalbed Methane (CBM)
What is Coalbed Methane?
Coalbed methane (CBM) is natural gas found in coal. CBM is composed mostly of methane (CH4) but
may have minor amounts of nitrogen, carbon dioxide and heavier hydrocarbons like ethane. It forms
naturally as a byproduct of the geological process that turns plant materials to coal.

CBM is considered an unconventional form of natural gas because the coal acts both as the source of the
gas and the storage reservoir. As well, the gas is primarily adsorbed on the molecular surface of the coal
rather than stored in pore spaces, as occurs in conventional gas reservoirs. If the CBM gas ever naturally
migrates out of a coal seam and becomes trapped in adjacent porous rock, it is no longer considered
CBM, but deemed to be conventional gas.
The gas adsorbed within coals is held there mostly by pressure. If the pressure is reduced, the gas is
released from the coal and free to flow to a well. The amount of gas liberated from a given coal seam is a
function of many factors, such as the chemical composition of the coal, the geological history of the coal,
and whether the coal had been previously depressured. The gas content of a coal can be estimated by
collecting drilling samples and measuring the volume of gas released as a function of pressure in a
The amount of methane in a coal deposit depends on the quality and depth of the deposit. In general, the
higher the energy value of the coal159 and the deeper the coal bed, the more methane in the deposit.160
Methane is loosely bound to coal -- held in place by the water in the coal deposits. The water contributes
pressure that keeps methane gas attached to the coal. In CBM development, water is removed from the
coal bed (by pumping), which decreases the pressure on the gas and allows it to detach from the coal and
flow up the well.

Figure I-24. Typical Coalbed Methane Well. Source: Ecos Consulting

In the initial production stage of coalbed methane, the wells produce mostly water. Eventually, as the coal
beds near the pumping well are dewatered, the volume of pumped water decreases and the production of
gas increases.161 Depending on the geological conditions, it may take several years to achieve full-scale
gas production. Generally, the deeper the coal bed the less water present, and the sooner the well will
begin to produce gas.
Water removed from coal beds is known as produced water. The amount of water produced from most
CBM wells is relatively high compared to conventional gas wells because coal beds contain many
fractures and pores that can contain and move large amounts of water.162

CBM wells are drilled with techniques similar to those used for conventional wells. In some regions
where the coal beds are shallow, smaller, less expensive rigs, such as modified water-well drilling rigs,
can be used to drill CBM wells, rather than the more expensive, specialized oil and gas drilling rigs.163
As with conventional gas wells, hydraulic fracturing is used as a primary means of stimulating gas flow in
CBM wells.164 Another gas stimulation technique, unique to CBM wells, is known as cavitation (also
known as open-hole cavity completion).
Cavitation is a similar phenomenon to opening a shaken pop bottle, only on a much larger scale.165
Water, and air or foam are pumped into the well to increase the pressure in the reservoir. Shortly
thereafter, the pressure is suddenly released, and the well violently blows out, spewing gas, water, coal
and rock fragments out of the well. This action is sometimes referred to as "surging," and it is
accompanied by a jet engine-like noise, which can last up to 15 minutes.166
The coal fragments and gas that escape from the well are directed at an earthen berm, which is supposed
to prevent the materials from entering the greater environment. The gas is burned or flared, and the coal
fines and fluids initially collect in a pit at the base of the berm. Some loose rock and coal materials
remains in the well. They are cleaned out by circulating water (and often a soap solution or surfactant)
within the well and pumping the material into a pit. The coal refuse is then typically burned on-site in a
pit, which is either referred to as a "burn pit" or "blooie pit."
The cavitation process is repeated several dozen times over a 2-week period.167 This results in an
enlargement of the initially drilled hole (well bore) by as much as 16 feet in diameter in the coal zone, as
well as fractures that extend from the well bore.168 If the cavitation fractures connect to natural fractures
in the coal, they provide channels for gas to more easily flow to the well.