Conclusions & References (Coalbed Methane)



Alaska has a significant portion of the coal resources in North America, and coal is by far the most abundant domestic energy resource available in the United States. Nevertheless, the occurrence of coal in an Alaskan sedimentary basin does not necessarily mean that subsurface coalbed gas can be economically produced. Subsurface coals need appropriate geologic and hydrologic characteristics to be CBM prospects. Lack of data on the geology, hydrology, subsurface water quality, coal quality, coal permeability, and gas content in most coal basins impedes assessing the coalbed methane potential in much of rural Alaska. However, there are areas that contain significant potential and could be explored and developed if the right incentives were available and plans developed. Detailed geologic field work and surface outcrop sampling is required in most areas before proceeding to the step of drill testing for gas content. The cost of obtaining coal gas content by drill coring is expensive, as much as $1 million per shallow drill hole as noted in the Fort Yukon experience. Additionally, the Fort Yukon project confirmed that the low-rank lignite coals present in a number of basins are not viable options for producing methane gas.

It is crucial that a proper assessment of all requisite geologic parameters be completed by qualified personnel before development decisions are made. A poorly conceived and executed CBM exploration program in rural Alaska could raise false expectations of the existence of a profitable resource where it is not geologically reasonable. Similarly, a poorly executed study could condemn a resource not properly assessed or evaluated for test sites. Like all energy resources, coalbed methane can be an excellent source of heat and power, but unique geologic conditions must be present, and rigorous scientific and economic evaluations need be performed before development can occur.


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