Coalbed methane in the United States

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Coalbed methane areas in the US lower 48 states US-Coalbed-Gas-Fields.jpg
Coalbed methane areas in the US lower 48 states
US coalbed methane production US Coalbed Methane Production.svg
US coalbed methane production
Coalbed methane production trends in the top five US producing states, 1989-2011. US Coalbed Methane Top 5 States.png
Coalbed methane production trends in the top five US producing states, 1989-2011.
US proved reserves of coalbed methane, 1989-2007. US Coalbed Methane Proved Reserves.png
US proved reserves of coalbed methane, 1989-2007.

The 2017 production of coalbed methane in the United States was 0.98 trillion cubic feet (TCF), 3.6 percent of all US dry gas production that year. The 2017 production was down from the peak of 1.97 TCF in 2008. [1] Most coalbed methane production came from the Rocky Mountain states of Colorado, Wyoming, and New Mexico.


Coalbed methane reserve estimates vary; however a 1997 estimate from the U.S. Geological Survey predicts more than 700 trillion cubic feet (20 trillion cubic metres) 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 trillion cubic metres) of it is economically viable to produce. [2]

The EIA reports 2017 reserves at 11,878 billion cubic feet (BCF) or 11.878 trillion cubic feet, [3] which at a current market price of US $2.97 as of May 14, 2021, are worth approximately $36.2 Billion USD. [4]


Coalbed methane grew out of venting methane from coal seams. Some coal beds have long been known to be "gassy," and as a safety measure, boreholes were drilled into the seams from the surface, and the methane allowed to vent before mining. Methane produced in connection with coal mining is usually called "coal mine methane."

Federal support

Coalbed methane received a major push from the US federal government in the late 1970s. Federal price controls were discouraging natural gas drilling by keeping natural gas prices below market levels; at the same time, the government wanted to encourage more gas production. The US Department of Energy funded research into a number of unconventional gas sources, including coalbed methane. Coalbed methane was exempted from federal price controls, and was also given a federal tax credit.

Start of coalbed methane in Alabama

Coalbed methane as a resource apart from coal mining began in the early 1980s in the Black Warrior Basin of northern Alabama.

The American Public Gas Association under a U. S. Department of Energy grant funded a three-well research program in 1980 to produce coalbed methane at Pleasant Grove, Alabama. [5] This program is the first aimed at commercial recovery of gas rather than mine degasification. It is also the first attempt to produce from more than one coal seam in the same wellbore.[ citation needed ] The coalbed methane wells were drilled on the lawn of the Pleasant Grove court house. The gas was of sufficient quality to be ducted into the kitchens of domestic users after minor processing including odorization as a safety measure.[ citation needed ]

The Pleasant Grove Field, which was established in July 1980 at a ceremony attended by U.S. Senators, Congressmen and officials of the Administration, was Alabama's first coal degasification field. John Gustavson, a Boulder geologist testified on the results in front of the State Oil and Gas Board of Alabama, who in 1983 established the nation's first comprehensive rules and regulations governing coalbed methane. These rules have served as a model for other states. [6]

Areas of coalbed methane production

Produced water

The produced water brought to the surface as a byproduct of gas extraction varies greatly in quality from area to area, but may contain undesirably high concentrations of dissolved substances such as salts and total dissolved solids (TDS). Because of the large amounts of water produced, economic water handling is an important factor in the economics of coalbed wells. CBM water from some areas, such as the San Juan Basin of Colorado and New Mexico, is of too poor quality to gain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit required for discharge to a surface stream, and most be disposed of to a federally licensed Class II disposal well, which injects produced water into saline aquifers below the base of potentially usable water.

In 2008, coalbed methane production resulted in 1.23 billion barrels of produced water, of which 371 million barrels (30 percent), was discharged to surface streams under NPDES permits. Almost all the surface-discharged water was from three areas: the Black Warrior Basin of Alabama, the Powder River Basin of Wyoming, and the Raton Basin of Colorado and New Mexico. [7]

Powder River Basin

Not all coalbed methane produced water is saline or otherwise undesirable. Water from coalbed methane wells in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming, USA, commonly meets federal drinking water standards, and is widely used in the area to water livestock. [8] Its use for irrigation is limited by its relatively high sodium adsorption ratio.

Black Warrior Basin

A large amount of coalbed methane produced water from the Black Warrior Basin has less than 3,000 parts per million (ppm) total dissolved solids (TDS), and is discharged to surface streams under NPDES permits. However, coal beds in other parts of the basin contain greater than 10,000 ppm TDS, and are classed as saline. [9]

Power generation

In 2012, the Aspen Skiing Company built a 3-megawatt methane-to-electricity plant in Somerset, Colorado at Oxbow Carbon's Elk Creek Mine. [10]

Funding methane capture with carbon offsets

The Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s methane capture project has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of about 379,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide between 2009 and 2017. [11] Conventional coal bed methane production wells were not economically feasible in this location due to the low volume of seepage. [12] The project delivers its gas to natural gas pipelines, and generates additional revenue through the sale of carbon offsets. [11] [13]


As natural gas wells, most of the permitting and regulation of coalbed methane is done by state governments.

Federal regulations apply to the two most common methods of handling CBM produced water. If the water is discharged to a surface stream, it must be done under an NPDES permit or a federally compliant state equivalent. If the water is disposed of by underground injection, it must be to a Class II Disposal Well.

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. [14] Operators are required to obtain building permits for roads, pipelines and structures, obtain wastewater (produced water) discharge permits, and prepare Environmental Impact Statements [15] As with other natural resource utilization activities, the application and effectiveness of environmental laws, regulation, and enforcement vary with location. Violations of applicable laws and regulations are addressed through regulatory bodies and criminal and civil judicial proceedings.[ citation needed ]

See also

Related Research Articles

Coalbed methane extraction is a method for extracting methane from a coal deposit. Coal bed methane (CBM) is one of the factors restricting safe production of coal in underground coal mines. It is also a form of high-quality energy that can be used in many fields such as power generation, heating, and chemical industries. CBM extraction is therefore carried out prior to extraction with a view of increasing the safety of mning coal beds, and as a useful energy resource to be exploited.

Coalbed methane Form of natural gas extracted from coal beds

Coalbed methane, coalbed gas, coal seam gas (CSG), or coal-mine methane (CMM) 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, Australia, and other countries.

Powder River Basin Geologic structural basin in the western US

The Powder River Basin is a geologic structural basin in southeast Montana and northeast Wyoming, about 120 miles (190 km) east to west and 200 miles (320 km) north to south, known for its extensive coal reserves. The former hunting grounds of the Oglala Lakota, the area is very sparsely populated and is known for its rolling grasslands and semiarid climate.

Concentrated animal feeding operation American type of intensive animal farming at large scale

In animal husbandry, a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO), as defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), is an intensive animal feeding operation (AFO) in which over 1,000 animal units are confined for over 45 days a year. An animal unit is the equivalent of 1,000 pounds of "live" animal weight. A thousand animal units equates to 700 dairy cows, 1,000 meat cows, 2,500 pigs weighing more than 55 pounds (25 kg), 10,000 pigs weighing under 55 pounds, 10,000 sheep, 55,000 turkeys, 125,000 chickens, or 82,000 egg laying hens or pullets.

Consol Energy Inc. is an American energy company with interests in coal headquartered in the suburb of Cecil Township, in the Southpointe complex, just outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 2017, Consol formed two separate entities: CNX Resources Corporation and CONSOL Energy Inc. While CNX Resources Corp. focuses on natural gas, spin-off Consol Mining Corporation, now Consol Energy Inc. focuses on coal. In 2010, Consol was the leading producer of high-BTU bituminous coal in the United States and the U.S.'s largest underground coal mining company. The company employs more than 1,600 people.

Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin

The Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin (WCSB) is a vast sedimentary basin underlying 1,400,000 square kilometres (540,000 sq mi) of Western Canada including southwestern Manitoba, southern Saskatchewan, Alberta, northeastern British Columbia and the southwest corner of the Northwest Territories. It consists of a massive wedge of sedimentary rock extending from the Rocky Mountains in the west to the Canadian Shield in the east. This wedge is about 6 kilometres (3.7 mi) thick under the Rocky Mountains, but thins to zero at its eastern margins. The WCSB contains one of the world's largest reserves of petroleum and natural gas and supplies much of the North American market, producing more than 16,000,000,000 cubic feet (450,000,000 m3) per day of gas in 2000. It also has huge reserves of coal. Of the provinces and territories within the WCSB, Alberta has most of the oil and gas reserves and almost all of the oil sands.

Hydraulic fracturing in the United States Overview of the topic

Hydraulic fracturing in the United States began in 1949. According to the Department of Energy (DOE), by 2013 at least two million oil and gas wells in the US had been hydraulically fractured, and that of new wells being drilled, up to 95% are hydraulically fractured. The output from these wells makes up 43% of the oil production and 67% of the natural gas production in the United States. Environmental safety and health concerns about hydraulic fracturing emerged in the 1980s, and are still being debated at the state and federal levels.

Raton Basin Geologic structural basin in Colorado and New Mexico

The Raton Basin is a geologic structural basin in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico. It takes its name from Raton Pass and the town of Raton, New Mexico. In extent, the basin is approximately 50 miles (80 km) east-west, and 90 miles (140 km) north-south, in Huerfano and Las Animas Counties, Colorado, and Colfax County, New Mexico.

Shale gas Natural gas trapped in shale formations

Shale gas is natural gas that is found trapped within shale formations. Shale gas has become an increasingly important source of natural gas in the United States since the start of this century, and interest has spread to potential gas shales in the rest of the world. In 2000 shale gas provided only 1% of U.S. natural gas production; by 2010 it was over 20% and the U.S. government's Energy Information Administration predicts that by 2035, 46% of the United States' natural gas supply will come from shale gas.

Piceance Basin

The Piceance Basin is a geologic structural basin in northwestern Colorado, in the United States. It includes geologic formations from Cambrian to Holocene in age, but the thickest section is made up of rocks from the Cretaceous Period. The basin contains reserves of coal, natural gas, and oil shale. The name likely derives from the Shoshoni word /piasonittsi/ meaning “tall grass”.

Black Warrior Basin

The Black Warrior Basin is a geologic sedimentary basin of western Alabama and northern Mississippi in the United States. It is named for the Black Warrior River and is developed for coal and coalbed methane production, as well as for conventional oil and natural gas production. Coalbed methane of the Black Warrior Basin has been developed and in production longer than in any other location in the United States. The coalbed methane is produced from the Pennsylvanian Pottsville Coal Interval.

Cahaba Basin

The Cahaba Basin is a geologic area of central Alabama developed for coal and coalbed methane (CBM) production. Centered in eastern Bibb and southwestern Shelby Counties, the basin is significantly smaller in area and production than the larger Black Warrior Basin in Tuscaloosa and western Jefferson Counties to the northwest. The coalbed methane is produced from the Gurnee Field of the Pottsville Coal Interval. Coalbed gas production has been continuous since at least 1990 and annual gas production has increased from 344,875 Mcf in 1990 to 3,154, 554 Mcf through October 2007.

Produced water Water as a byproduct of oil production

Produced water is a term used in the oil industry to describe water that is produced as a byproduct during the extraction of oil and natural gas. Produced water is a kind of brackish and saline waters from under ground formation that are brought to the surface. Oil and gas reservoirs often have water as well as hydrocarbons, sometimes in a zone that lies under the hydrocarbons, and sometimes in the same zone with the oil and gas.

Shale gas in the United States

Shale gas in the United States is an available source of natural gas. Led by new applications of hydraulic fracturing technology and horizontal drilling, development of new sources of shale gas has offset declines in production from conventional gas reservoirs, and has led to major increases in reserves of U.S. natural gas. Largely due to shale gas discoveries, estimated reserves of natural gas in the United States in 2008 were 35% higher than in 2006.

Water pollution in the United States Overview of water pollution in the United States of America

Water pollution in the United States is a growing problem that became critical in the 19th century with the development of mechanized agriculture, mining, and industry, although laws and regulations introduced in the late 20th century have improved water quality in many water bodies. Extensive industrialization and rapid urban growth exacerbated water pollution as a lack of regulation allowed for discharges of sewage, toxic chemicals, nutrients and other pollutants into surface water.

Environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing in the United States

Environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing in the United States has been an issue of public concern, and includes the contamination of ground and surface water, methane emissions, air pollution, migration of gases and hydraulic fracturing chemicals and radionuclides to the surface, the potential mishandling of solid waste, drill cuttings, increased seismicity and associated effects on human and ecosystem health. Research has determined that human health is affected. A number of instances with groundwater contamination have been documented due to well casing failures and illegal disposal practices, including confirmation of chemical, physical, and psychosocial hazards such as pregnancy and birth outcomes, migraine headaches, chronic rhinosinusitis, severe fatigue, asthma exacerbations, and psychological stress. While opponents of water safety regulation claim hydraulic fracturing has never caused any drinking water contamination, adherence to regulation and safety procedures is required to avoid further negative impacts.

Exemptions for hydraulic fracturing under United States federal law

There are many exemptions for hydraulic fracturing under United States federal law: the oil and gas industries are exempt or excluded from certain sections of a number of the major federal environmental laws. These laws range from protecting clean water and air, to preventing the release of toxic substances and chemicals into the environment: the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, commonly known as Superfund.

Marcellus natural gas trend Natural gas extraction area in the United States

The Marcellus natural gas trend is a large and prolific area of shale gas extraction from the Marcellus Shale or Marcellus Formation of Devonian age in the eastern United States. The shale play encompasses 104,000 square miles and stretches across Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and into eastern Ohio and western New York. In 2012, it was the largest source of natural gas in the United States, and production was still growing rapidly in 2013. The natural gas is trapped in low-permeability shale, and requires the well completion method of hydraulic fracturing to allow the gas to flow to the well bore. The surge in drilling activity in the Marcellus Shale since 2008 has generated both economic benefits and considerable controversy.

Natural gas in the United States

Natural gas was the United States' largest source of energy production in 2016, representing 33 percent of all energy produced in the country. Natural gas has been the largest source of electrical generation in the United States since July 2015.

Industrial stormwater is runoff from precipitation that lands on industrial sites. This runoff is often polluted by materials that are handled or stored on the sites, and the facilities are subject to regulations to control the discharges.


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