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Coalbed Methane Development in the Intermountain West: Primer

Gary Bryner, Regulation and Development of Coalbed Methane (2002)

Coalbed methane (CBM) is a form of natural gas that is trapped within coal seams and held in place by hydraulic pressure. The gas is adsorbed to the internal surfaces of the coal; when wells are drilled that extract the water holding the gas in place, the methane eventually flows through fractures to the well and is captured for use. Coalbed methane extraction began as an effort to reduce the threat of methane explosions in coal mines, and has been produced in commercial quantities since 1981. CBM development in the United States has grown rapidly from a few dozen wells in the 1980s to some 14,000 wells in 2000. In 1989, the United States produced 91 billion cubic feet of coalbed methane; ten years later, the total produced had grown to nearly 1.3 trillion cubic feet, representing seven percent of the total natural gas production in the United States.1

Some 56 percent of the total CBM production in the United States has come from the Rocky Mountains. The San Juan basin in Southern Colorado/Northern New Mexico has been the major source of CBM. Development began in 1988 and rapidly expanded by the end of the 1990s. Production has now begun to decline and companies are trying to maintain output by more intensive development. The Powder River Basin in Northeast Wyoming is the fastest growing CB A play. In 1997, the basin produced 54 million cubic feet of gas/day from 360 w