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Coal and Coalbed Methane Development Conflicts Revisited: The Oil and Gas Perspective

Phillip Wm. Lear, J. Matthew Snow, Public Land Law, Regulation, and Management (2003)

Judge Toothman's dicta provides the legal literature with the most poetic, if not the most accurate, modern description of operational conflicts posed by the development of coalbed methane. It is most fitting that a Pennsylvania judge so adroitly addressed a problem that arises commonly in Pennsylvanian-age geology. His description of the gas and its origins aptly sets the stage for this article.

Current estimates suggest that the co-terminous United States has 700 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of coalbed methane reserves, with about 100 Tcf potentially recoverable.3 This exceeds the known reserves of natural gas. Historically, methane in coal seams represented a hazard to coal miners. Operators ventilated it to the atmosphere to render coal mines safe for operations. Today, however, coalbed methane is seen as an important alternative source of pipeline quality natural gas.

Coalbed methane occurs, as its name implies, in coal seams. Important, albeit not always fully appreciated, is the fact that coal seams appear in Pennsylvanian and Cretaceous age formations in the same lands as known and developing oil and gas fields. On the western scene, [10-2] coal seams are also found in the same lands as other bedded energy minerals such as oil shale, native asphalt, and other oil impregnated rock. The coexistence of methane in the coal seams, coupled with the stratigraph