47th Annual AAPG-SPE Eastern Section Joint Meeting

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Pennsylvania Coalbed Methane Update


Interest in the economic value and development of natural gas from coal beds in Pennsylvania was stimulated by federal research on deep mine safety practices through methane drainage and recovery during the 1970s and 1980s. This resulted in a dramatic increase in coalbed methane production a decade later, leading to major growth from 1999 to 2008. This occurred in part because of increased knowledge of the coalbed methane reservoir, improvement in drilling technology, higher gas prices, more favorable national economic conditions, and the need to expand our domestic energy resources. Since then, the number of new well permits decreased in 2009 due to a global recession and focus on the Middle Devonian Marcellus shale gas play. However, commercial quantities of coalbed methane are still being produced in the southwestern Main Bituminous field. According to the Pennsylvania Geological Survey Wells Information System and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection as of December 2012, there were 1,275 coalbed methane wells in various stages of completion and status. About 985 of these wells were classified as producing, active, and inactive. The following coals of the Monongahela Group, Conemaugh Group, Allegheny Formation, and Pottsville Formation are among the principal targets for methane production: Sewickley, Pittsburgh, Bakerstown (Upper and Lower), Brush Creek, Mahoning, Freeport (Upper and Lower), Kittanning (Upper, Middle, and Lower), Clarion, Brookville, and Mercer (Upper, Middle, and Lower). At this writing, figures are being updated through our new Exploration and Development Well Information Network oil and gas database and available statistics from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Various resource estimates were quantified by the following sources: (1) Geomega, Inc. (1983 unpublished report)—2,654 billion cubic feet (2.7 trillion cubic feet) for Pennsylvania anthracite and bituminous coal; (2) Gas Research Institute (1988)—51 trillion cubic feet gas-in- place for southwestern Pennsylvania and northwestern West Virginia; and (3) United States Geological Survey (1996)—11.5 trillion cubic feet economically recoverable for the Northern Appalachian coal basin (Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, and northern West Virginia). Coalbed methane, an energy source that rivals conventional natural gas in composition and heating value, continues to be an important part of our domestic energy mix on state and national levels.