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How is Coalbed Methane Created?

CBM is generated from buried coal deposits. Millions of years ago dead plant remains collected in swampy areas throughout Western Canada and the United States. Overtime the plant material was buried underneath deposits of sand and clay. It began to harden as a result of naturally occurring pressures and heat. This process is known as lithification and where plant material is concerned, is called coalification.

The coalification process can stop at any time, depending on geologic conditions, leading to the formation of different ranks of coal and methane content. Generally, coal rank is measured by the degree of coalification, the longer the coalification process the greater the rank. The higher temperatures and pressures on the original formation, the better the coal rank. A higher coal rank has a larger percentage of carbon and methane in the formation. While there are always exceptions to the rule, we can generally say that the deeper the coal, the higher the methane gas content.

At depth and pressure coal generates methane which is then stored within the microscopic framework of the coal itself. Due to its large internal surface area, coal is able to store an enormous amount of gas. In comparison to conventional gas reservoirs, coal seams can store almost six to seven times more gas on an equivalent reservoir volume basis.

Now that technological advances have made the extraction of CBM feasible, we can begin accessing vast new reservoirs of gas. Already in the United States, CBM contributes close to 21% of their unconventional gas production. In Canada, the National Energy Board estimates that CBM represents approximately 18% of Canada's estimated unconventional gas production.

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