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Capture of Ventilated Methane From Mining Operations: Ownership, Regulation, and Liability Issues

James H. Holtkamp, Rebecca A. Ryon, Proceedings of 55th Annual Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Institute (2009)

A common characteristic of an underground coal mine is the constant rush of air sweeping through the mine to remove odorless, colorless methane. Until the last few years, coal operators were only concerned about the safety hazard posed by methane, which is both extremely flammable and lethal in high concentrations. Given that methane is also a valuable energy source and a common and potent greenhouse gas (GHG), however, more attention is now being focused on capturing the ventilated methane and putting it to beneficial use. Unlike coalbed methane (CBM) that is produced from coal deposits that are generally not being mined, developing coal mine methane (CMM) is complicated by the necessary concern for the miners' safety and the preservation of valuable coal resources.

CMM must be actively removed through a mine ventilation system, typically consisting of some combination of fans, vent wells, shafts, boreholes, and massive air flow into and out of the mine portals and other openings. This “degasification” can be costly for a mine operator, sometimes prohibitively so in gassy mines. As a result, a variety of technologies have been developed to collect and utilize methane from underground mines. The uses for CMM include introduction into natural gas pipelines, electric power generation, co-firing in boilers, mine heating, coal drying, vehicle fuels, flaring, and manufactur