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Chapter 4

Coalbed Methane

Chapter Outline
Section 1. Generation of Coalbed Methane 112 Section 4. Forming and Distributing Coalbed Methane 127
1. The Concept of Coal-Formed Hydrocarbon 112 1. Implication of Coalbed Methane and Its Boundaries 127
2. Substantial Composition of Coal and Coal-Formed 2. Geochemical Characteristics of Coalbed Methane 128
Hydrocarbon 112 3. Evolutionary Process of Coalbed Methane Generation 130
3. Coalification Process 113 4. Distribution Rule of Coalbed Methane 131
4. Kinetics of Hydrocarbon Generation in Coal-Bearing
Section 5. Evaluation and Selection of Coalbed Methane
Rocks 113
Resources 133
Section 2. Geologic Features of the Coal Reservoir 116 1. Evaluation of Coalbed Methane Resources 133
1. Porous System in Coal Reservoirs 116 2. Distribution of Coalbed Methane Resources 135
(1) Pore Classification in Coal Reservoirs 116 3. Candidates for Coalbed Methane Exploration 135
(2) Quantitative Description of Coal Pores 118
Section 6. Case Study 138
(3) Influence Factors of Coal Pores 118
1. High-Ranking Coalbed Methane in the Southern Qinshui
2. Microfissure Systems and Permeabilities of Coal
Basin 138
Reservoirs 119
(1) Geological Background 138
(1) Fracture System Classification in Coal Reservoirs 119
(2) Features of Coalbed Methane 138
(2) Impact Factors for the Formation of a Coal-Reservoir
(3) Reservoir-Formation Processes and Mechanisms
Fracture System 119
of Coalbed Methane 140
(3) Permeability of Coal Reservoirs 120
2. Medium-Ranking Coalbed Methane in San Juan Basin 140
Section 3. Occurrence State of Coalbed Methane and (1) Geological Background 140
Production Mechanisms 122 (2) Features of Coalbed Methane 141
1. Occurrence State of Coalbed Methane 122 (3) Reservoir-Formation Processes and Mechanisms
(1) Adsorption State 122 of Coalbed Methane 142
(2) Dissolved State 124 3. Low-Ranking Coalbed Methane in Powder River Basin 143
(3) Free State 125 (1) Geological Background 143
2. Mechanism of Coalbed Methane Production 125 (2) Features of Coalbed Methane 144
(1) Desorption Mechanism 125 (3) Reservoir-Formation Processes and Mechanisms
(2) Diffusion Mechanism 126 of Coalbed Methane 145
(3) Seepage Mechanism 126 References 145

Since the 1980s when the geological theory about coal- currently totals more than 500  108 m3. The resources of
formed gas was first formulated (Song et al., 1998, 2005a; coalbed methane are abundant in China, with these
Dai et al., 1996) and oil companies incorporated this theory resources in strata buried shallower than 2000 m being
to the exploration of natural gas, the proven gas in place and 32.86  1012 m3 and recoverable reserves being 13.9 
gas production in China has entered a stage of rapid growth. 1012 m3 (Summary Report of the 973 Coalbed Methane
As the source rock of conventional natural gas, coal Projects, 2008). However, exploration and development of
measures can accumulate commercially valuable quantities coalbed methane are still in the initial stages in China, and
of hydrocarbon gas, primarily in the adsorbed state, the surface development of coalbed methane just made
namely, coalbed methane. Since the 1980s, exploration for a breakthrough at 5  108 m3 in 2008. As of the end of
coalbed methane in countries such as the United States and 2008, approximately 340 coalbed methane wells of various
Canada has progressed significantly, and the annual types had been drilled, and important progress has been
production of coalbed methane in the United States made in coalbed gas exploration and development in the

Unconventional Petroleum Geology. 111

Copyright 2013 Petroleum Industry Press. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
112 Unconventional Petroleum Geology

Qinshui, Ordos, and Fuxin Basins (Zhao, 1999; Ye et al., Their studies have given significant impetus to the theory of
1998; Li et al., 1996; Zhang Xinmin et al., 1991). In coal-formed hydrocarbon (Lavine, 1993).
general, constructing the infrastructure to prepare for Over decades of research, our understanding of coal-
coalbed methane production has progressed rapidly in formed hydrocarbon has increased dramatically. Associated
China, while exploring for and determining proven reserves theories have pointed out that in general, gas formation
are still in their infancy. Recently, research on coalbed predominates over oil formation during the coalification of
methane genesis and analysis of dynamic field and reser- coal measures (Dai, 1979, 1980; Dai et al., 2000; Hu, 1998;
voir-formation processes (Song et al., 2005b) have broadly Cheng, 1994). In a coal-bearing series, different types of
considered the classification and discrimination of coalbed hydrocarbon are generated from various distinct macerals.
methane genesis; mechanisms of reservoir control from Natural gas is formed during coalification of the coal
tectonic stress, thermal, and hydrodynamic fields; and enriched with humic organic matter such as vitrinite and
analysis of boundaries and reservoir-forming processes of inertinite (i.e., coal-formed gas). The source rocks consisting
coalbed methane. In this chapter, we discuss the composi- of hydrogen-enriched macerals in humic coal (similar to
tional and reservoir characteristics of coalbed methane, the type II and III kerogens, as indicated in the diagram by Van
occurrence states and reservoir-formation processes, and Krevelen in Figure 4-1), including coal enriched with
the distribution rules and controlling factors of coalbed amorphous solids, alginates, and exinites, have the capa-
methane. Our discussion leans heavily on the results of bility to generate petroleum. Generally speaking, the capa-
previous studies, including the classic cases of coalbed bility of the coal macerals to generate oil can be ranked from
methane in China and abroad. powerful to weak, as follows: exinite, vitrinite, and inertinite.
The hydrocarbon-forming process during coalification of
coal measures can be divided into three stages: (1) predry gas
SECTION 1. GENERATION OF stage, (2) gas-oil generating stage, and (3) postdry gas stage.

Coal-formed hydrocarbon refers to the hydrocarbon formed Coal is a combustible, heterogeneous organic rock made up
during the process of coalification or thermal maturation of of organic and inorganic substances. Also, the organic coal
coal beds or a coal-bearing rock series, which can be in residues are diverse and complex (Clayton, 1998; Lu et al.,
either a liquid or gaseous state. Therefore, coal-formed 1995; Huang et al., 1984). The organic components
hydrocarbon can be essentially divided into two categories: (macerals) in coal can be divided into exinites, vitrinites,
(1) coal-formed oil, and (2) coal-formed gas (including and inertinites, based on their properties and origin.
coalbed methane) (Huang et al., 1995; Fu et al., 1990). As Exinites are the macerals with the highest biochemical
early as the 1940s, German scholars proposed for the first stability in the coalified plants, namely, those that origi-
time the theory of coal-formed hydrocarbon, suggesting nated from the reproductive organs (spore and pollen exine)
that coal could generate gas and that the derived gas could and the protective organs of plants. Exinites are transparent
migrate and be accumulated inside or outside the coal under transmitted light, light yellow to dark red in color,
measures to form commercial gas fields (Cramer et al., have distinctive outlines, are dark gray and light gray in
1999). This theory guided natural gas exploration I Europe color under oil-immersed reflective light, and protrude
and was very successfuldthe giant Groningen gas field a little. Vitrinites are very common in coal, from 65% to
with up to 2  1012 m3 coal-formed gas reserves was 80% and higher in most coals. Vitrinites originate from the
discovered in Holland in 1959. In the late1960s through the coalification of lignins and cellulose of a plants stems,
1970s, using the same exploration concept, the Western roots, and leaves, and are adhesive and melt under pyrol-
Siberian and Karakum Basins were evaluated for resources ysis, which binds the inertinites. In vitrinites, a plants cell
in the former Soviet Union, ultimately discovering textures are retained in the telinites (the plants cell texture
a significant number of large coal-formed gas fields cannot be seen normally in collinite). Vitrinite A occurs as
(including the largest gas field in the worlddUrengoy gas streaks or lenses with uniform, clear outlines; vitrinite B
field). Until the late 1960s, a large contingent of Australian acts as a matrix to bind other macerals and cogenetic
scholars recognized that hydrocarbons could be generated minerals; and vitrodetrinite is a vitrinite component in
in humic-type kerogen, also noting that the exinites con- clastic form. The primitive substance of inertinite is the
tained in coal were important to oil formation. They same as that of vitrinite, but originates from fusinite.
concluded that gas as well as oil could be formed from coal. Fusinite is black in color, opaque under transmitted light,
Chapter | 4 Coalbed Methane 113

white to yellow under oil-immersed reflective light, and composition in coal-bearing rocks: (1) coal enriched with
protrudes in varied degrees. Because of its origin, fusini- liptinite corresponds to types I and II kerogen, (2) coal
zation degrees, and variety of primitive substances, fusin- enriched with vitrinite to type III kerogen, and (3) coal
ites can be subdivided into a number of different macerals, enriched with inertinite to type IV kerogen (Levine, 1987).
such as micrinite, macrinite, semifusinite, fusinite, sclerite, Experiments have proven that exinites can generate
and inertodetrinite (Liu et al., 1997; Wang et al., 1990; a great deal of hydrocarbon, particularly oil (Figure 4-2),
Wang et al., 1986; Fu and Qin, 1995; Sun et al., 1999). since they have a high ratio of H/C atoms, a low ratio of
In terms of coal genesis, coal can be divided into humic aromatics to carbon, a high ratio of lipid to carbon, and high
coal, sapropelic coal, and residual coal. Humic coal is percentages of methyl, a-methylene, methylene, and
formed through coalification of the higher plants. Sapro- methine. Conversely, compared to exinite, humic coal
pelic coal originates from the residuum of lower plants such enriched with vitrinite-inertinite has a low ratio of H/C
as algae. Residual coal is produced by plants that show only atoms, a high ratio of aromatics to carbon, a low ratio of
minor biodegradation and often have remnant plant frag- lipid to carbon, and low percentages of methyl, a-methy-
ments; residual coal includes pyropissite and cannelite. lene, methylene, and methane. As a result, humic coal has
Humic coal is the predominant coal resource, which is a poor capacity for hydrocarbon (oil) generation and gas
sourced from land plants with lignocellulose as their sup- generation is predominant (Figure 4-3). As the thermal
porting texture. Under weak oxidationereduction condi- evolution of coal advances, the ratio of H/C atoms
tions lignocellulose generates a gelatinous substance, and decreases (Huang et al., 1995; and Liu et al., 2000).
under oxidation conditions, it generates fusinite-like mass
(Su and Lin, 2009). In the process of coalification, the former 3. COALIFICATION PROCESS
is converted into vitrinite and the latter into fusinite. The few
stable components in the higher plants such as cutin, spores, The chemical reaction process at elevated temperatures is
suberin, and resin are mainly composed of hydrogen- the essence of coalification, and hydrocarbon is the reaction
enriched proteins and lipid compounds, which are the product. From Figure 4-4, it can be seen that during coal-
forerunner of the stable components in coal. Vitrinites, ification, all types of coal exhibit an increase in C content
inertinites, and liptinite are combined in different propor- and a decrease in H and O content. For low-ranking coal,
tions to generate various types of humic coal. Figure 4-1 decreasing oxygen content is predominant, while H content
shows the tendency of various types of kerogen to generate decreases rapidly for high-ranking coal. For various types
CH4 and expel CO2 and H2O in the process. In the figure, of coal, the weight percentiles of C, H, and O are different.
four types of kerogen have been confirmed by elemental However, various types of high-ranking coal tend to behave
analysis and correlated with three groups of maceral consistently in this aspect, indicating that the excess H and
O are removed and the compositions tend to be stabilized.
In light of hydrocarbon source rock, coalification can be
2.0 divided into several stages, as shown in Figure 4-5.

Temperature and time complement one another in the
H/C (Atomic ratio)

CO2 process of hydrocarbon generation in coal-bearing rocks, as

they control the kinetics of the chemical reaction. Research
1.0 on the kinetics of hydrocarbon generation in coal-bearing
rocks concentrates on two main areas: (1) model selection,
and (2) model calibration (Schaefer et al., 1990; Braun
et al., 1992; Ungerer and Pelet, 1987; Wang and Wang,
1984). At present, the models include a first-order reaction
model, cascaded first-order reaction model, finite parallel
reaction model, and infinite parallel reaction model. Since
coal is a heterogeneous polymer with a large 3D molecular
network, it includes many kinds of functional groups and
0 0.05 0.10 0.15 0.20 0.25 0.30 complicated molecules linked with chemical bonds. Its
O/C (Atomic ratio) reaction nature and the types of chemical bonds that
FIGURE 4-1 Kerogen types and evolutionary path, Van Krevelen chart decompose and break vary continuously during pyrolysis.
(after Levine, 1987). IeIV represent types of kerogen. The reactions of hydrocarbon generation are actually
114 Unconventional Petroleum Geology

Rate of hydrocarbon generation (mg/g)

Rate of hydrocarbon generation (mg/g)

250 250
Sporinite Barkinite
200 200

150 150

100 100

50 50
0 0
0.5 1 1.5 2 0.5 1 1.5 2 2.5
Vitrinite reflectance (%) Vitrinite reflectance (%)
Gaseous hydrocarbon + light hydrocarbon Liquid hydrocarbon Total hydrocarbon
FIGURE 4-2 Simulated rates of hydrocarbon generation by thermal evolution of exinite (after Liu et al., 2000).

a series of parallel and cascaded unit reactions. Therefore, Liu and Tang (1998) proposed the following model
the models for the kinetics of hydrocarbon generation during their study of the kinetics of a single hydrocarbon
generally fall into the following two categories: molecule:
xi t xi0 1  expki t
(1) Model of cascaded first-order reaction
ki Ai expEi =RT
dx=dt A$ expE=RT1  x
where xi is the generation volume of the ith reaction at time
where t is the reaction time; x is the concentration of t; xi0 is the maximum potential of the ith hydrocarbon
reactant; A is the apparent frequency factor; E is the generation parent; ki is the constant of reaction speed; t is
apparent activation energy of reactant; R is the gas the reaction time; Ei is the activation energy; Ai is the
constant; and T is the reaction temperature. frequency factor; R is the gas constant; and T is the absolute
temperature. Fu et al. (2002) studied the kinetics of
(2) Model of parallel first-order reaction
methane and composition C2-5 generation in Upper Palae-
ozoic coal in the Ordos Basin using this model.
dxi =dt Ai expEi =RTxi0  xi
The key to understanding hydrocarbon generation
where t is the reaction time; xi is the concentration of kinetics in coal-bearing rocks is model calibration.
reactant i; xi0 is the original potential of reactant i; Ai is the Essentially, the calibration determines the activation
apparent frequency factor of reaction i; Ei is the apparent energy (E) and the frequency factor (A) of the kinetic
activation energy of reactant i; R is the gas constant; and T model, which is realized normally by experimental data
is the reaction temperature. [hydrocarbon generation rate (composition)etemperature

(a) (b)
Rate of hydrocarbon generation (mg/g)

Rate of hydrocarbon generation (mg/g)

100 200


0 0
0.5 1 1.5 2 0.5 1 1.5 2
Vitrinite reflectance (%) Vitrinite reflectance (%)
Gaseous hydrocarbon + light hydrocarbon Liquid hydrocarbon Total hydrocarbon
FIGURE 4-3 Simulated rates of hydrocarbon generation by thermal evolution of vitrinite A (a) and vitrinite B (b) (after Liu et al., 2000).
Chapter | 4 Coalbed Methane 115

values in the range of 213.5 to 234.5 kJ/mol (Lu, 1996; Lu

et al., 1997). In terms of activation energy distribution, the
activation energy of cutinite and alginite is a sole value
and that of resinite has an extremely narrow distribution,
while those of vitrinite, suberinite, and sporinite
are widely distributed. The activation energy distribution
of a maceral in coal-bearing rock is a macroscopic
reflection of its internal texture. Also, the distribution of
activation energy determines the sequence of hydrocarbon
generation of macerals: resinite, suberinite/vitrinite
B/sporinite, vitrinite/cutinite/alginite/fusinite.
Therefore, at the early stages of thermal evolution,
resinite and suberinite can generate hydrocarbon signifi-
cantly to form immature oil, while other macerals reach the
FIGURE 4-4 Evolutionary processes of two different types of coal (after
peak of hydrocarbon generation only at the later stages.
Levine, 1993). Coal rank and coalification settings are closely associated
with the characteristics of activation energy distribution.
(time)]. It involves a number of factors such as samples For example, the different ranks of coal in the Shanxi and
and objectives for study, experimental simulation Taiyuan formations in the eastern margin of the Ordos
methods, and computer software. The characteristics of Basin (Tang et al., 1999), at Ro 0.50% to 1.30%, the
the hydrocarbon generated by coal are affected by mac- average activation energy of coal is relatively low, normally
erals in the coal-bearing rock, coalification degree, and less than 350 kJ/mol, and especially at Ro 0.95%, the
coalification setting. Some experimental studies discov- average activation energy decreases to the minimum of 239
ered that various macerals of coal have remarkably distinct kJ/mol. Low-activation energy means low temperature for
kinetic features. Resinite and suberinite have the lowest hydrocarbon generation. The activation energy of low-
average activation energy at about 167.5 kJ/mol; the ranking coal is distributed widely, mainly converging in the
average activation energy of alginite is the highest at 280.5 range of 250 to 350 kJ/mol as coal rank rises to the stage of
kJ/mol; and sporinite, vitrinite, and cutinite have moderate intermediate-grade metamorphic bituminous coal, then

FIGURE 4-5 Division of coalification stages (after Qin and Zeng, 1996).
116 Unconventional Petroleum Geology

diverges again after entering the high-grade metamorphic methods such as mercury injection and cryogenic nitrogen
stage. adsorption are used to study the features of coal pores.
There are two methods for classifying matrix pores
in coal: (1) genetic classification and (2) size classifica-
SECTION 2. GEOLOGIC FEATURES OF tion. Different researchers use various distinct schemes
THE COAL RESERVOIR for genetic classification of matrix pores. Hao (1987)
classified the matrix pores in coal in terms of genesis into
A reservoir of coalbed methane is a dual structural system plant tissue pores, vesicles, intergranular pores, inter-
composed of pores and fissures (Tremain and Whitehead, crystal pores, cast pores, and dissolved pores. On the
1990; Kulander and Dean, 1993; Laubach et al., 1998; basis of macerals in coal-bearing rock, metamorphosis,
Zhang, 2001; Su and Lin, 2009) (Figure 4-6). A coal bed is and deformation of coal, Zhang (2001) used the SEM to
hypothesized as regular matrix blocks with micropores, and classify the genesis of coal pores into four categories:
also incised by a series of fissures. The matrix pores in coal (1) primary pores, (2) metamorphosed pores, (3) exogenic
are the primary space for accumulation of adsorbed and pores, and (4) mineral pores. In addition, Chen and Tang
free coalbed methane, and the gas volume adsorbed is (2001) studied the classification of coal pores in terms of
related to the development and structural features of pores. morphology, Sang et al. (2005) investigated the classifi-
The great deal of matrix pores in coal have small radii and cation in terms of gas fixing, and Fu et al. (2005) clas-
contribute to the high surface area within pores, providing sified coal pores according to fractal and natural features
sufficient space for the accumulation of coalbed methane. (Table 4-1). The genetic types and development charac-
The fissure systems in coal reservoirs are the main passages teristics of pores and their related permeability are
for fluid seepage in coal. a direct reflection on the capacity of coal reservoirs for
gas generation, storage, and migration. The genesis of
coal pores varies greatly, and the pores have complicated
1. POROUS SYSTEM IN COAL morphologies and wide-ranging sizes. Various pores are
RESERVOIRS developed in microzones and are connected by fissures,
allowing communication with the overall seepage system
(1) Pore Classification in Coal Reservoirs of coalbed methane.
Coal pores are characterized by the following parameters: Xoeots (1961) classification scheme is usually used for
pore size, morphology, texture, type, porosity, porous volume, classification of pore sizes in coal matrix. Khodot proposed
surface-to-volume ratio, and fractal character. Currently, his classification of pore size texture on the basis of industrial
ordinary microscopy and scanning electron microscopy adsorbents, mainly using pore sizes and the interaction
(SEM) are usually used for observation, and occasionally between gas molecules. Coal is a sophisticated porous

C. Gas molecules are desorbed from the surface

B. Gas molecules migrate from cleats to exogenetic fissures of matrix pores and diffuse to cleats
b. Gas molecules are desorbed from the cleat surface c. Gas molecules are desorbed from the surface
End cleat of matrix pores

A. Gas molecules migrate from exogenetic fissures to wellbore

a. Water is produced from exogentic fissures
Cleats in bedding

Porous system in matrix unit


Cleat system in bright coal


C. Gas molecules are desorbed from the surface


B. Gas molecules migrate directly from of matrix pore and diffuse to exogenetic fissure

exogenetic fissures to wellbore c. Gas molecules are desorbed from the surface
Dull coal b. Gas molecules are desorbed from the of matrix pore
Bright coal surface of exogenetic fissure
Dull coal
Fissure system in coal reservoir

Exogenetic fissure system in dull coal Porous system in matrix unit

FIGURE 4-6 Geometric model of coal reservoir (after Su and Lin, 2009).
Chapter | 4
Coalbed Methane
TABLE 4-1 Classification of Pores in Coal-Bearing Rocks
scheme Researcher Class

Porous size/ Micropore Small pore (Transit pore) Medium pore Macropore
Xoeot (1961) < 10 10e100 100e1000 > 1000
Intl. Theoretical < 0.8 (Submicropore) 0.8e2 (Micropore) 2e50 > 50
& Applied
Genesis Zhang (2001) Primary pore Metamorphosed pore Exogenic pore Mineral pore
Hai (1987) Plant tissue pore Vesicle Intergranular pore Intercrystalline pore Cast pore Dissolved pore
Porous Chen and Tang Type I pore (cylindrical pore with both Type II pore (cylindrical pore with one end closed, parallel Type III pore (pore in shape of
morphology (2001) ends open and parallel plate-like pore plate like pore, wedged pore and tapered pore) bottle with thin neck)
with four sides open)
Solid-gas Zhang Hongri Adsorption Seepage pore (>50)
interaction (1993) pore (<50)
Sang et al. (2005) Absorption pore (<2) Adsorption Gelled adsorption pore (10e100) Seepage pore (>100)
pore (2e10)

Fractal and Fu et al. (2005) Diffusion (radius) Seepage (radius)

natural feature
Micropore Transit pore Small pore Medium pore Transit pore Macropore
<8 8e20 20e65 65e325 325e1000 >1000
Surface diffusion Mixed diffusion Kundsen diffusion Stable laminar Abrupt laminar Turbulent

Note: The figures listed in the above table refer to diameters in nm except as marked otherwise (after Tang et al., 2008).

118 Unconventional Petroleum Geology

medium, and the pores in coal refer to the spaces not filled by percentage, with an average less than 20% of the total pore
solids (organic matter and mineral) in the coal body. Xoeot volume. In intermediate-grade metamorphic coals such as fat
(1961) divided the pores in coal in terms of spatial dimension coal, coking coal, and lean coal, macropores and medium
into macropores (greater than 1000 nm), medium pores pores are well developed, especially in coking coal, where
(100e1000 nm), small pores (10e100 nm) and micropores they account for approximately 38% of the total pore volume.
(less than 10 nm). Gas percolates primarily as laminar and Micropores account for less than 50% of the total pore
turbulent flows in the macropores and exists in the micro- volume. These macropores and medum pores are favorable
pores in the form of capillary condensation, physical to depressurization, desorption, diffusion, and migration of
adsorption, and diffusion. Taking into account factors such as coalbed methane. This coal rank is the most favorable in
the migration and accumulation of the main component terms of coalbed methane reservoirs.
methane (with an effective molecular diameter of 0.38 nm) in The pore size distribution of coal is closely associated
coalbed methane, and the scope of the classification results, with coalification. Chen (2001) found that lignite has
researchers tend to use Xoeots classification. a uniform distribution of pores of different sizes. For flenu
coal, more micropores occur, while fewer macropores and
medium pores are present. For moderately coalified bitu-
(2) Quantitative Description of Coal Pores
minous coal, the pore size is dominated by macropores and
Pores in coal matrix can be described quantitatively using micropores, while medium pores account for a low
three parameters: (1) total specific pore volume, that is, percentage. For high-grade metamorphic coal such as lean
total volume of pores in unit mass of coal (cm3/g); (2) coal and anthracite, micropores represent the majority,
specific pore surface area, that is, surface area of pores in while medium pores and macropores with pore size greater
unit mass of coal (cm2/g); and (3) porosity, that is, than 100 nm account only for about 10% of the total
volume occupied by pores in unit volume of coal (%). A specific pore volume.
coal bed is regarded as a tight, impermeable reservoir or The specific pore surface area is an important factor for
a low-permeability reservoir according to the classifica- characterizing the microscopic porous structure of coal.
tion of conventional oil and gas reservoirs. The migration Normally, micropores constitute the adsorption spaces in
of coalbed methane occurs through fissures, and the coal and correspond to those in the matrix, having very
movement of coalbed methane in matrix pores occurs as large specific surface area. Small pores constitute the sites
diffusion. Therefore, the phrase effective porosity is for capillary condensation and diffusion in coal beds,
not normally used in the study of coalbed methane; medium pores act as a slow seepage path for coalbed
instead, fissure porosity is used to evaluate the migration methane, and macropores correspond to cleat fractures and
of coalbed methane. The phrase absolute porosity is structural fissures, creating the pathways for strong
used to evaluate the accumulation capacity of a reservoir. laminar flow. High specific surface area indicates a strong
The total specific pore volume of coal falls normally in capacity for coalbed methane adsorption, but micropores
the range of 0.02 to 0.2 cm3/g, the specific pore surface are the main contributors to specific surface area. Gener-
area ranges from 9 to 35 cm2/g, and the porosity from ally, it is recognized that the adsorption capacity of coal to
1% to 6%. gas tends to increase as coal rank rises. Following this
rule, the specific surface area of coal would increase as
coal rank rises. However, the cryogenic nitrogen tests of
(3) Influence Factors of Coal Pores
partial coal samples in China had the opposite result
The porosity, pore size distribution, and specific pore surface (Figure 4-7). It can be seen that the relationship between
area of coal are related closely to coal rank. As vitrinite specific surface area and coal rank as revealed by the
reflectance increases, coal porosity tends to vary from cryogenic nitrogen tests of partial coal samples in China is
highelowehigh. Low-ranking coal has loose texture and similar to that between coal porosity and rank. For
macropores are predominant, with a relatively high porosity. medium and low-ranking coal, as metamorphism of coal is
Medium-ranking coal has smaller amounts of large pores. enhanced, the specific surface area of coal decreases
For high-ranking coal, the pore volume is small and micro- gradually while it begins to increase for anthracite. The
pores predominate. Ning and Chen (1996) conducted minimum value of specific surface areas lies at the inter-
mercury injection and helium tests on 45 Carboniferous and section between bituminous coal and anthracite (Ro
Permian coal samples taken from the regions of Jiaozuo, 2.55%). However, the CO2 isothermal adsorption experi-
Huainan, Anyang, Tangshan, and Pingdingshan in North ment made by Bustin and Clarkson (1998) indicated that
China. The tests revealed that micropores were well devel- the specific pore volume and surface area of micropores in
oped in the high-grade metamorphic meager coal and the coal samples decreased first as coal rank rose, then
anthracite, accounting for over 50% of the total pore volume, increased, and finally reached the minimum for bitumi-
while macropores and medium pores accounted for a low nous coal.
Chapter | 4 Coalbed Methane 119

(2) Impact Factors for the Formation of

a Coal-Reservoir Fracture System
Coal fissures are affected by coal metamorphism similar
to the way coal pores are affected. Based on their
research, Zhang (1995) and Zhang and Li (1996) believed
that cleats were best developed in the bright coal and
semibright coal that resulted from intermediate-grade
metamorphism, and that their distribution areas would be
the preferential targets for exploration and development
of coalbed methane. Law (1993) pointed out that a func-
tional relationship existed between cleat frequency and
coal rankdthat is, that cleat frequency increased as coal
rank rose from lignite to bituminous coal with the volatile
component moderately contained, and then decreased as
FIGURE 4-7 Relationship between specific surface area and coal rank
(after Tang and Sang, 2008). coal rank rose to anthracite. Ning and Chen (1996) also
found that endogeneous fissures were best developed in
moderately metamorphosed coal beds, which tended to
enhance coal permeability and the connectivity of matrix
pores and led to good physical properties of coal reser-
2. MICROFISSURE SYSTEMS AND voirs. During exploration and development, depressur-
PERMEABILITIES OF COAL RESERVOIRS ization tends to be easily realized in this kind of coal
(1) Fracture System Classification in Coal reservoir, favorable to desorption, diffusion, and migra-
tion of coalbed methane, and it is the coal rank most
Reservoirs favorable to coalbed methane development. Wang and
Fissures and pores jointly constitute the reservoir space and Chen (1995) also stated that: (1) pore development in coal
migration pathways of coalbed methane in coal reservoirs. was not only controlled by coaly facies, but was also
Wang et al. (1997) broadly studied the characteristics of controlled by coal rank and metamorphic type; (2) the
fissures and pores in coal to analyze the producing char- development of microfissures was controlled by both the
acteristics of coalbed methane, and then they proposed pore composition of coal-bearing rock and coal meta-
and fissure classification schemes and their nomenclatures morphism; and (3) the development of endogeneous
(Table 4-2), which are applicable to petrophysical studies. fissures was not only affected by the composition of coal-
Huo (2004) proposed the classification scheme of the bearing rock, but also constrained by coal metamorphism.
microscopic pores and fissures in coal reservoirs (see Bi et al. (2001) recognized that cleat density primarily
Table 4-3). depended on coal rank, and normally the cleat density
Microfissures in coal reservoirs can be divided into four reached the highest at a vitrinite reflectance of approxi-
types according to their extension (see Table 4-4). mately 1.3%. The closing of cleats in high-ranking coal

TABLE 4-2 Classification and Nomenclature of Pores and Fissures in Coal Reservoirs (Wang et al., 1997)

Type Name of pore or fissure Size Distribution

Pore Residual pores of plant tissues Several nanometers to Within coal matrix blocks
several tenths of millimeters
Matrix pores
Secondary pores (vesicles)
Fissure Microfissure

Macrofissure Endogeneous fissure Several millimeters to In the subzones of

(cleat) several centimeters coal-bearing rocks

Joint: Exogenic joint, Several tenths of meters to Over the whole coal
air-heave joint several dozen meters reservoir
120 Unconventional Petroleum Geology

TABLE 4-3 Classification of Microscopic Pores and Fissures in Coal Reservoirs (Huo, 2004)

Microscopic pore Microscopic fissure

Biogenetic pore Semiconfined to confined Endogeneous fissure Open semiopen to

semiclosed closed
Nonbiogenetic pore Intergranular pore Bedding plane fissure
Inherited fissure
Thermogenetic pore Structural fissure

In terms of ductility and opening, the microfissures identified microscopically can be divided into four practical categories: A, B, C, and D (Table 4-4).

was mainly a result of filling and cementing of secondary study area. Well-testing permeability is directly measured
macerals. during well testing. For coal reservoirs, the slug method
As burial depth increases, the coal reservoir tends to be and water-injection depressurization method (Zuber,
subject to greater ground stress and the permeability of the 1998) are primarily used. Well-testing permeability can
reservoir becomes poorer. Observing the trend of absolute give the best reflection of the in-situ permeability, hence it
permeability variation of coal reservoirs in the San Juan, is a fairly reliable method for permeability determination.
Black Warrior, and Piceance Basins, one can clearly see According to the available information, the perme-
this tendency (Figure 4-8). ability values of coal reservoirs in countries other than
China are normally higher than 10  103 mm2. For
instance, the permeability in the Roton Basin is 10 to 50 
(3) Permeability of Coal Reservoirs 103 mm2, that in Black Warrior Basin is 1 to 25  103
Permeability of coal reservoirs is an important parameter mm2, and that in Powder River Basin is as high as 500 to
that controls the movability of gas and water in coal beds, 1000  103 mm2 (Zuber, 1998; Ayers, 2002). Compared
and determines the migration and production of coalbed with those abroad, the permeabilities of coal reservoirs in
methane. It is the most important indicator when evalu- China are normally less than 1  103 mm2; even those of
ating the physical properties of a coal reservoir. There are good coal reservoirs usually fall in the range of 1 to 10 
two kinds of permeability in the early stages of exploration 103 mm2, and rarely greater than 10  103 mm2. Based on
of coalbed methane: (1) well-testing permeability, and the statistical data described in Coalbed Methane
(2) coal-bearing rock permeability (laboratory). For eval- Resources in China (Ye, 1998), the permeabilities of coal
uating the coal reservoir, well-testing permeability is the reservoirs in China vary between 0.002 and 16.17  103
preferential parameter for permeability evaluation, while mm2 and average 1.273  103 mm2. They include a level
coal-bearing rock permeability could be used as an alter- with permeability less than 0.10  10-3 mm2, accounting for
native if well-testing permeability is unobtainable in the 35%; a level with permeability between 0.1 to 1.0  103
mm2, accounting for 37%; a level greater than 1.0  103
mm2, accounting for 28%; and a level less than 0.01 
TABLE 4-4 Brief Form of Practical Classification of 103 mm2 and greater than 10  103 mm2, very rarely
Microfissures in Coal Reservoirs (after Yao and Liu, found (Figure 4-9). In China, the level with permeability
2007) from 0.1 to 1.0  103 mm2 is predominant in coal beds.
Permeabilities in coal beds are usually low; even those in
Microfissure the southeastern Qinshui Basin currently under commercial
type Microfissure feature development usually fall in a range of 1 to 10  103 mm2.
Type A Width  5 mm and length  10 mm, good
The permeability of coal-bearing rock is also called
continuity, long extension laboratory permeability, which is derived from the core
analysis of conventional coal in a laboratory. Compared to
Type B Width  5 mm and length  10 mm, relatively
long extension well-testing permeability, laboratory-derived permeability
has many constraints. The main reason is that the labora-
Type C Width < 5 mm and length  300 mm, tory-derived permeability cannot accurately reflect
sometimes interrupted in extension
changing environmental conditions. First, the lab perme-
Type D Width < 5 mm and length < 300 mm, short ability is usually measured at atmospheric and ambient
extension temperature, not at the elevated temperature and high
pressure or the in-situ conditions of the coal reservoir.
Chapter | 4 Coalbed Methane 121

FIGURE 4-8 Relationship between

permeability and burial depth in coal
reservoirs of some areas in the United
States (after Mckee et al., 1998).

Second, the testing accuracy of a permeability measure- reservoir permeability. Permeability tests of extensive
ment in the lab is reduced because the sample size is too samples of coal-bearing rocks taken from the Shanxi,
small. Finally, even if the coal sample is large enough, the Shaanxi, Henna, Liaoning (Shengyang), and Anhui coal
large exogeneous fissures in a coal reservoir cannot be fields found that the permeability of coal-bearing rock can,
represented accurately. As a result, the actual permeability in most cases, reflect the actual permeability of a coal
of a coal reservoir might be underestimated by laboratory- reservoir. Figure 4-10 is a high-low box diagram of the
derived permeability. On the other hand, artificial fissures distribution of measured permeability in coal-bearing rocks
might be created during handling and preparation of coal in 11 selected mines of coalbed methane in China. The
samples. In this case, the actual permeability of a coal average permeabilities of the mines are generally in the
reservoir could be overestimated in the laboratory. range of 0.1 to 1  103 mm2 and in some mines are more
Although evaluating coal reservoirs by using the than 1  103 mm2.
permeability of coal-bearing rock has many disadvantages, A comparison of Figures 4-9 and 4-10 indicate that the
this method is used because of its easy availability. value intervals of coal-bearing rock permeability of mines
Particularly, at the early stage of exploration when coalbed are similar to the permeability values derived from well
methane areas without drilling operations are evaluated, testing, and there is a positive correlation between coal-
permeability can be used as an important indicator for bearing rock permeability and well-testing permeability.

FIGURE 4-9 Distribution of well-testing permeabilities in major Chinese coal mines (coal fields) (after Tang et al., 2004). 1eTiefa mine; 2eFuxin coal
field; 3eKailuan mine; 4eFengfeng mine; 5eDacheng mine; 6eAnhe coal field; 7eJiaozuo coal field; 8ePingdingshan coal field; 9eWupu mine;
10eLiulin mine; 11eDaning coal field; 12eJixian mine; 13eHangcheng mine; 14eNingwu coal field; 15eXishan coal field; 16eShouyang mine;
17eLuan mine; 18eJincheng mine; 19eHuainan coal field; 20eHuaibei coal field; 21eEnhong-laochang mine.
122 Unconventional Petroleum Geology

convert seamlessly from one state to the other. Generally,

the adsorbed state is predominant of the three states,
accounting for 70% to 95%; the free state accounts for
about 10% to 20%, and the dissolved state is extremely
rare. The specific percentage depends on the meta-
morphism and burial depth of the coal (Song et al., 2005c).

(1) Adsorption State

An adsorption field is created on the coal surface by the
attraction force of the surface molecules within the coal
matrix to adsorb methane gas on the matrix surface and in
the matrix pores. This occurrence state of coalbed
methane is called the adsorbed state. The adsorbed
volume has a nonlinear, functional relationship with the
pressure of the coalbed methane reservoir. There are many
mathematical models to describe adsorption properties,
FIGURE 4-10 Box diagram of measured permeability distribution in key
coal fields (basins) in China (after Tang et al., 2008). 1eHongyang coal built mainly on three theories: kinetic, thermodynamic,
field; 2eDatong coal field; 3eQinshui Basin; 4eHedong coal field; and potential theories. The models include the Langmuir
5eWeibei coal field; 6eAnhe coal field; 7ePingdingshan coal field; equation on adsorption of a monolayer of a molecule, the
8eYongxia coal field; 9eYinggong coal field; 10eHuaibei coal B. E. T. equation on adsorption of a multilayer of
field; 11eHuainan coal field.
a molecule, the DeR and DeA equations (suitable to
isothermal adsorption of coal or single-composition gas),
the dispersion and polarization model, and the Collin
Therefore, well-testing permeability should be considered theory (Su et al., 2001). Generally, the Langmuir
the preferred permeability, and the permeability of coal- isothermal adsorption equation can be used to describe the
bearing rock should be considered as secondary, to effect adsorption characteristics of coalbed methane (Langmuir,
a realistic evaluation of coal reservoir permeability. 1916):
COALBED METHANE AND where VL is the Langmuir volume, m3/t, reflecting the
PRODUCTION MECHANISMS maximum adsorptive capacity of the coal body; PL is the
Langmuir pressure, MPa, at which the adsorbed volume
reaches 50% of the maximum adsorptive capacity; and P is
1. OCCURRENCE STATE OF COALBED the pressure of the coal reservoir, MPa.
METHANE According to the Langmuir model of adsorption
kinetics, a quantitative relationship can be described by the
Under geological conditions, coalbed methane exists in Langmuir isothermal adsorption equation extended for
coal beds in three states: (1) the adsorbed state, (2) the free multiple compositions when multiple composition gas is
state, and (3) the dissolved state. In addition, a few mixed and adsorbed (Figure 4-11):
researchers have proposed a liquid-like state (Collins,
VLi Pi
1991). The coalbed methane in the adsorbed state occurs on Vi !; i 1; 2; 3$$$m
the surface of coal pores in the form of adsorption; that in Pm Pj
PLi 1 j1
the free state is distributed in coal pores and fissures; and PLj
that in the dissolved state occurs in coalbed water under
dissolution. Methane gas generated during coalification where Vi is the adsorbed volume of gas composition i, m3/t;
tends to be adsorbed first, then dissolved, and finally VLi is the Langmuir volume of gas composition i, m3/t; PLi
liberated as free gas. At certain temperatures and pressure, is the Langmuir pressure of gas composition i, MPa; Pi is
gas in these three states stays in a common dynamic the partial pressure of gas composition i, MPa, related to
equilibrium system. That is, when the amount of hydro- the mole ratio or volumetric concentration of the mixed gas
carbon generated in a coal bed increases or the external composition; and i(j) and m are the mixed gas composition
conditions change, these three occurrence states will and compositional fraction.
Chapter | 4 Coalbed Methane 123

20 1%~4.3%
30 3%~2.6%

Adsorbed volume (cm3/g)

16 6%~1.6%

Adsorbed volume (cm3/g)


9 8%~1.0%
0 2 4 6 8 10
4 P (MPa)
FIGURE 4-12 Isothermal adsorption curve of coal with different Ro at
45 centidegrees (after Ma, 2003).
0 4 8 12
P (MPa)
(Figure 4-12); and when Ro is greater than 4%, the adsorption
FIGURE 4-11 Adsorptive features of gas with different compositions capacity decreases as coal rank rises (Figures 4-13 and 4-14).
(after Reznik, 1984).
The Langmuir volume of coal has a linear relationship
with the volatile component content, and as the content of
the volatile component increases, the Langmuir volume
If coalbed methane is composed completely of methane decreases and the adsorption volume also drops. As
gas (m 1), the extended Langmuir isothermal adsorption generally recognized, the more moisture contained in coal,
equation is presented in its general form as: the more the effective adsorption sites are occupied and the
fewer adsorption sites are left for gas, thereby decreasing
VLCH4 P the adsorption capacity (Figure 4-15). However, when the
PLCH4 P moisture increases over a certain value, which is called
the critical value, no additional impact is made on the
If the actual mixed gas of coalbed methane is mainly
adsorption capacity. Since coal consists of vitrinites, iner-
composed of three kinds of gas: CH4, CO2, and N2 (m 3),
tinites, and exinites, generally vitrinites have the most
then the adsorbed volume of methane gas is
powerful adsorption capacity, inertinites are next, and
VLCH4 PCH4 exinites have the least adsorption capacity. For coal at the
PCH4 PCO2 PN 2 same rank, the adsorption capacity of vitrain with more
PLCH4 PLCO2 PLN2 vitrinite content is more powerful than that of durain with
more inertinite or liplinite contents (Figure 4-16).
The total adsorbed potential of coalbed methane (Vad) Temperature has a passive influence on the adsorption
equals the sum of the three single gases, namely capacity of coal but plays an activation role in desorption.
The total Langmuir constant of a single gas can be 60
derived from the isothermal adsorption experiment of the
single gas.
Langmuir volume (cm3/g)

The adsorption capacity of a coal reservoir to gas is

affected not only by its nature, such as coal rank, macerals,
and deformation, but also by some external factors, such as 30
controls over moisture, temperature, and pressure (Ettinger
et al., 1966; Gan et al., 1972; Yee et al., 1993; Gayer and 20
Harris, 1996; Zhong and Zhang, 1990; Crosdale et al., 1998;
Zhang and Yang, 1999; Ma, 2003). Coal metamorphism 10
directly affects coal texture and chemical composition, and
severely restricts the adsorption capacity of coal. There are 0
0 2 4 6 8
two tendencies of variation in the gas adsorption capacity Rmax (%)
of coal as coal rank changes: when Ro is less than 4%, FIGURE 4-13 Relationship between Langmuir volume and coal meta-
the adsorption capacity increases as coal rank rises morphism of dry basis coal samples (Song et al., 2005a).
124 Unconventional Petroleum Geology

60 methane increases as pressure rises; when pressure is

elevated to a certain point, the adsorption capacity of coal
50 becomes saturated and does not continue to increase even
Langmuir volume (cm3/g)

as the pressure continues to increase (Figure 4-17). This

summary is commonly accepted.

20 (2) Dissolved State

10 Coalbed methane in its dissolved state is the gas dissolved
in water in the coal bed, with its volume depending on the
0 water volume in the coal bed and the gas volume dissolved
0 2 4 6 8
Rmax (%) in water (Fu et al., 1996, 1997; Hao and Zhang, 1993; Tyler
FIGURE 4-14 Relationship between Langmuir volume and coal meta- et al., 1995; Yang, 1997; Liu, 1998). The dissolving
morphism of equilibrium water coal samples (Song et al., 2005a). capacities of various molecules of natural gas differ. For
example, the solubility of CO2 is 36 times that of CH4, and
CH4 is slightly higher than 1/2 of the C2H4 solubility.
Pressure, temperature, and water salinity also affect the
volume of coalbed methane dissolved in water. Previous
Langmuir volume (cm3/g)

experimental studies showed that the solubilities of natural

gas compositions are sequential, as follows: CO2 > CH4 >
30 N2 > C2H6 > C3H8 > C4H10 > C5H12. As the salinity of
formation water increases, the solubility of natural gas
20 decreases and the type of formation water (inorganic salt
type) does not affect the gas solubility significantly. The
10 solubility of natural gas has a nonlinear, positive relation-
ship with pressure. Solubility also decreases as temperature
0 first increases, then increases as temperature further
0 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 increases, with the inflexion point at 80 centidegrees.
Moisture (%) Except peat and lignite, the water content in coal beds is
FIGURE 4-15 Relationship between Langmuir volume and moisture normally below 5%. In other words, there is more gas
(after Su et al., 2001). dissolved in water within coal beds of peat and lignite rank,
while limited methane is dissolved in other coal ranks
25 because the water content is lower. When conditions
change, such as when water gets expelled from coal bodies
20 and the coal bed is depressurized, the methane dissolved in
Langmuir volume (cm3/g)

water might escape from the water and become free gas. In
15 addition, at the stage of hydrocarbon liquid production
from coal beds (Ro 0.5% to 1.3%), gas dissolved in oil
10 still exists. Although oil has a higher dissolution capacity to
gas than water, oil producibility and oil accumulation
5 ability in coal are limited, and the gas volume dissolved in
oil is minimal.
The dissolved gas volume in a coal reservoir is the
40 50 60 70 80 90 100 function of gas solubility, pore volume, and water satura-
Vitrinite content (%) tion, as expressed in the following equation:
FIGURE 4-16 Relationship between Langmuir volume and vitrinite Xm

content (after Crosdale et al., 1998).

Vdis $ VP $SW $RSi

The higher the temperature, the greater the quantity of free where Vdis is the accumulation potential of dissolved gas,
gas and the less gas is adsorbed. Therefore, the adsorption cm3/g; Vp is the pore volume in the coal reservoir, cm3/g;
capacity of coal decreases as temperature rises and the Sw is water saturation in the coal reservoir, cm3/cm3; Rsi
volume of gas adsorbed at identical pressure is lower. At is the solubility of component i of coalbed methane
constant temperature, the adsorption capacity of coal to (volumetric ratio), cm3/cm3; and i and m are the
Chapter | 4 Coalbed Methane 125

25 25

Adsorbed volume (cm3/g )

Adsorbed volume (cm3/g )

20 20

15 15

VL =25.01m3/t
10 PL =2.21MPa 10
VL =23.40m /t
3 VL =22.27m3/t
5 PL =3.48MPa 5 PL =2.45MPa
VL =17.07m3/t
PL =2.94MPa
0 0
0 4 8 12 16 20 0 4 8 12 16 20
P (MPa) P (MPa)
FIGURE 4-17 Isothermal adsorption curves at different temperatures (after Su et al., 2001).

component and component number of the mixed gas. (deviation factor). The following equation is used to
When CH4 has a very high concentration or for approx- calculate ni:
imation calculations, coalbed methane can be regarded as
Pi V P S g
100% methane gas. ni
where Pi is the reservoir pressure, Pa; T is the reservoir
(3) Free State temperature, K; Vp is the pore volume in the coal reservoir,
In its free state, coalbed methane remains as free gas in coal cm3/g; Sg is the gas (water) saturation in the coal reservoir,
cleats and other fissures and pores, and it can move freely, %; and Zi is the compressibility factor of component i of
such as when driven by pressure (Wu, 1993). When gas gas, being a parameter closely correlated with gas,
migrates and enters the fissure network in the free state, it temperature, and mole density.
can be considered as conventional gas. The accumulation
potential of free gas is the sum of the accumulation volumes 2. MECHANISM OF COALBED METHANE
of gas components, namely: PRODUCTION
VF VFi As mentioned above, coalbed methane exists in coal reser-
i1 voirs mainly in three phasesd(1) adsorbed phase, (2) free
phase, and (3) dissolved phase. Methane gas in these three
where Vf is the accumulation potential of free gas, cm3/g; phases remains in a state of dynamic equilibrium.
and Vfi is the accumulation potential of component i in free In coal reservoirs, when fluid pressure declines, methane
gas, cm3/g. When CH4 has a very high concentration or for gas adsorbed on the surface of coal matrix pores in the form
approximation calculations, coalbed methane can be of physical sorption is desorbed and becomes coalbed
regarded as 100% methane gas. methane in the free phase, which then diffuses through the
ni RTo coal matrix or percolates into natural fissures. The coalbed
VFi ni RTo methane in the free phase within natural fissures will reach
the borehole and be produced through seepage (Hao et al.,
where ni is the mole number of gas accumulated in 1994; Su et al., 1999; Song et al., 2002; Fu et al., 2003; Liu
seepage pores under the reservoir pressure and tempera- et al., 2000). In summary, the mechanism of coalbed
ture conditions, mol/g; P0 is the gas pressure in standard methane production can be described by a 3D theory:
state, 1.01  103 Pa; T0 is the gas temperature in standard desorptionediffusioneDarcy flow, as shown in Figure 4-18.
state, 273.15 K; and R is the mole volumetric constant, Based on this mechanism, a recovery theory such as water
8.31J/(mol K). drainageedepressuringedesorptionegas production has
At atmospheric and ambient temperatures, coalbed been formulated for coalbed methane development, giving
methane can be regarded as idealized gas. However, at effective guidance to coalbed methane production.
reservoir pressure and temperature, coalbed methane can
be regarded as real gas, with a certain deviation to ideal-
(1) Desorption Mechanism
ized gas. The higher the pressure and temperature, the
greater is the deviation. So, the idealized gas state equation When pressure in a coal reservoir declines, the methane gas
is to be corrected by use of a gas compressibility factor molecules in the adsorbed state acquire energy Ea and go
126 Unconventional Petroleum Geology

Gas is desorbed from the inner Gas diffuses through matrix Fluid flows into natural
surface of coal grains and micropores fracture network
FIGURE 4-18 Schematic diagram of coalbed methane production: desorptionediffusioneDarcy flow.

beyond the adsorption potential well, becoming molecules of (2) Diffusion Mechanism
free gas. In this way, the adsorbed methane molecules are
separated from the inner surface of coal and desorbed as free Coalbed methane is desorbed from a coal reservoir by
gas. Therefore, desorption is an endothermal process (Nod- means of the above-mentioned four subcategories and
zenski, 1998). The more severe the thermal movement of enters into cleats through diffusion; that is, methane
methane gas molecules is, the higher is the kinetic energy, molecules move from the high concentration zone to the
and the higher is the possibility for desorption of the adsorbed low concentration zone. The process can be described by
methane molecules by acquiring energy. The desorption the first Ficks law:
behavior and features have been described with the Lang- qm DsVm rg Ct  CP
muir equation or extended Langmuir equation by most
researchers. In the undersaturation case, methane molecules where qm is the methane amount diffused from the coal
can be desorbed from the inner surfaces of pores in the coal matrix, t/d; D is the diffusion factor, m2/d; s is the shape
matrix only when the pressure in the coal reservoir is lower factor, m2; rg is the methane density, t/m3; Vm is the coal
than the critical desorption pressure (Rupple and Grein, matrix volume, m3; C(t) is the average concentration of
1974; Vishnyakov and Piotrovskaya, 1998). On the basis of methane in the coal matrix; and C(P) is the equilibrium
the desorption conditions and features of different kinds of methane concentration at the matrix cleat boundary, t/m3.
coalbed methane, the physical desorption of coalbed
methane can be divided further into four subcategories: (1)
pressure-reduced desorption, (2) temperature-elevated (3) Seepage Mechanism
desorption, (3) displacement desorption, and (4) diffusion Coalbed methanes flow in a fissure system follows Darcys
desorption. Pressure-reduced desorption refers to a process law. In a fissure system, methane and water show miscible
whereby the molecules of coalbed methane adsorbed on the flow in their own phase and the phase permeability of each
inner surface of coal matrix pores become more active fluid; that is, relative permeability is to be used when
because of a decline of the external pressure, effectively applying Darcys law. The ratio between effective perme-
liberating the gas from the binding of van der Waals forces ability and absolute permeability is called relative perme-
and changing from adsorbed state to free state. Temperature- ability. Generally, relative permeability is used during
elevated desorption refers to the process whereby the practical study, which is normally regarded as a function of
elevated temperature accelerates the thermal movement of saturation. According to Darcys law, the seepage law of
gas molecules, enabling them to liberate with more power each phase can be expressed as:
from the binding of van der Waals forces and be desorbed.
Kl DPl
The essence of displacement desorption lies at the Vl
displacement of methane molecules in the adsorbed state by ul L
the unadsorbed water molecules or other gas molecules Kl K Krl
driving for kinetic equilibrium, thereby changing the
methane molecules that were originally in the adsorbed state where Vl is the seepage velocity of phase l; ul is the
into the free state. Diffusion desorption is essentially viscosity coefficient of phase l; DPl is the pressure differ-
a desorption resulting from diffusion driven by a concen- ential of phase l; L is the length of the seepage route; Kl is
tration difference. In these four types of desorption, pressure- the effective permeability of phase l; K is the absolute
reduced desorption is the most important and makes the permeability of a porous medium; and Krl is the relative
greatest contribution to coalbed methane production. permeability of phase l.
Chapter | 4 Coalbed Methane 127

units of fluid flow. This type of boundary exists in east-

SECTION 4. FORMING AND central Utah in the United States and in the southern Qin-
DISTRIBUTING COALBED METHANE shui Basin in China. Formation of an underground water
divide is controlled by structure, generally at the axial part
of an anticline. A hydrodynamic blockage boundary is the
1. IMPLICATION OF COALBED most common coalbed methane boundary, existing in
almost all coalbed methane systems. It occurs mainly as
water recharging along the outcrop of a coal bed, then
Coalbed methane is an unconventional natural gas, and its migrating deeper and forming a water table at a certain
reservoir has distinctly different characteristics compared depth, enabling accumulation of coalbed methane in the
with the conventional natural gas reservoir. Therefore, we detention zone. To retain a certain amount of coalbed
should not directly apply the concepts of a natural gas methane in a reservoir, it is necessary to have a certain
reservoir to coalbed methane. In this book, the coalbed pressure in the reservoirdthat is, a certain elevation of the
methane reservoir is defined as the coal-bearing series underground hydrostatic table, which corresponds to
having similar geological factors, a relatively independent reservoir pressure. Therefore, we know that the hydrody-
fluid system, and certain resources dominated by coalbed namic boundary is the boundary indirectly reflecting the
methane in the adsorbed state. Since coalbed methane gas-bearing amount, and also a dynamic boundary that
reservoirs are distributed as extensively and continuously changes as the underground water table changes.
as other unconventional gas reservoirs, they are also a type The weathered and oxidized zone boundary is
of continuous gas reservoir. a boundary dependent on the composition of coalbed
Based on the systematic analysis of typical coalbed methane components. As the underground water table
methane in China and abroad, the boundary system of declines, coalbed methane is dissipated along outcrops and
coalbed methane is divided into five types: hydrody- mixes with air, changing the composition of coalbed
namic boundary, aero-oxidation zone boundary, fault methane components and resulting in a decrease of
boundary, physical property boundary, and lithological methane content and increase of carbon dioxide and
boundary. nitrogen contents. Generally, methane concentration of
In the hydrodynamic boundary, coalbed methane in its 80% is regarded as the lower limit of the weathered and
adsorbed state predominantly occurs within the hydrostatic oxidized zone. For example, in the southern Qinshui Basin,
action of the underground water table, and the basic units the methane content drops abruptly above the boundary of
for coalbed methane accumulation are controlled by the the weathered and oxidized zone (Figure 4-19). Therefore,
recharge, migration, detention, and drainage of the water to some extent the weathered and oxidized zone is an
table. Therefore, the hydrodynamic conditions of the artificial boundary.
underground water table is one of the decisive factors for Faults are an important lateral boundary for coalbed
accumulation and reservoir formation of coalbed methane. methane, and can be identified as either closed or open
The hydrodynamic boundary can be further subdivided into faults. A closed fault occurs when the displacement pres-
two kinds: underground water divide and hydrodynamic sure of the rock body in the fault zone is greater than the
blockage. The existence of an underground water divide reservoir pressure. The smearing action of mudstone rein-
separates the coalbed methane at both sides in different forces the closing ability of a fault, and the lithological

120 FIGURE 4-19 Determination of the weathered and

No. 3 coal oxidized zone boundary in the southern Qinshui Basin.
No. 9 coal
100 No. 15 coal
CH4 content (%)





0 100 200 300 400 500 600 700
Burial depth (m)
128 Unconventional Petroleum Geology

composition at both sides of a fault differ due to fault throw as coal rank varies. The analysis of 795 gas samples taken
and the displacement pressure in rock beds butted up to the from coalbed methane wells in the United States made by
coal reservoir. Also, the strong cataclasis of grains and Scott (1993) and Scott et al. (1994) showed that the
diagenetic cementation can close up faults. The closing of composition and the average contents of coalbed methane
an open fault depends on the hydrostatic pressure in the were as follows: CH4 accounted for 93.2%, C2 (heavier
fault belt. High hydrostatic pressure favors the retention of hydrocarbon ) for 1.6%, CO2 for 4.4%, and N2 for 0.8%.
coalbed methane; otherwise, coalbed gas dissipation From the previous statistics, it can be seen that for the
results. It acts identically to the mechanism of the hydro- coalbed methane produced at the wellhead, thermogenic
dynamic blockage boundary. (for instance, Black Warrior Basin, Qinshui Basin) or
A physical property boundary occurs when a coal body biogenic (for example, Powder River Basin, Fuxin Basin)
is recrystallized into mylonitic coal by the action of gas shows only small differences in coalbed methane
tectonic stress, and its physical properties degrade and the composition, with methane predominant (average 97% to
displacement pressure increases remarkably. As a result, 99.75%). They also show very low percentages of heavier
the diffusion and migration of coalbed methane is blocked. hydrocarbon gas and nonhydrocarbon gas (normally less
Also, mylonitic coal has a high gas content that increases than 2%, mostly less than 1%) (Table 4-5). Compared to
the reservoir pressure, thereby blocking the concentra- conventional natural gas, coalbed methane has a relatively
tional diffusion, migration, and dissipation of coalbed consistent composition. No matter whether the source rock
methane in the adjacent coal bodies. This type of boundary is immature or overmature, coalbed methane exhibits the
is cogenetic usually with fault boundaries and is distrib- features of dry gas in terms of composition. The compo-
uted along the fault belt, having significance for the sition of conventional natural gas that originated from coal
closing of a fault. Faults with different natures and the fault measures is usually affected by the maturity of the source
upthrow and downthrow tend to create coal bodies with rock. As maturity increases, the percentage of methane
different widths and various recrystallizations. Increasing increases and heavier hydrocarbon gas decreases, and
attention has been paid to this type of boundary along with methane is enriched in the gas at late stage with over-
the development of coalbed methane and the coal mining maturity. For example, in the Kela-2 gas field with gas
progress. originated from highly overmature coal measures, the
A lithological boundary refers to the boundary at content of methane is as high as 96.58%, but C3 and C3
a pinchout zone of a coal bed. Two cases can be described paraffins are not detected. However, in the Yaha condensate
in this type of boundary: one is that the lithology at the gas field with gas that originated from the mature to highly
pinchout zone of a coal bed has high permeability and low mature stage, the average content of methane is only
displacement pressure, such as sandstone or fractured 82.32% and the content of C2-5 is up to 11.61%.
porous limestone. In this case, the accumulation of coalbed In terms of carbon isotope content, coalbed methane
methane is unlikely, as gas is subject to escape rather than obviously differs from conventional natural gas (Tao,
be retained. Another is that the lithology at the pinchout 2005). Currently, there are few statistical data on C2
zone of a coal bed has low permeability, such as mudstone components since methane is the primary component of
or siltstone, which have high displacement pressures and coalbed methane with C2 being a minor component. The
are favorable to coalbed methane retention. greatest difference between the carbon isotopes of ther-
mogenetic conventional coal-formed gas and coalbed
2. GEOCHEMICAL CHARACTERISTICS methane lies at the lighter carbon isotope of methane in
coalbed methane originating from source rocks with similar
maturity. For instance, in the southern Qinshui Basin, the
The data from coalbed methane geochemical analyses highest Ro of Permian No. 3 coal bed is above 3.5%, and Ro
derive mainly from samples of the desorbed gas in coal- of Jurassic source rock in coal measures in Kuqa is less than
bearing rocks, drainage gas, and wellhead extracted gas, of 2%. But the carbon isotope of methane in natural gas
which the first two kinds are distributed widely. Zhang et al. accumulated at the late stage in the Kela-2 gas field in Kuqa
(2002) ran statistics on more than 6000 sets of coalbed is e27.3&, which is obviously heavier than the carbon
methane composition data taken from 358 wells or fields isotope of methane (31.95&) in the overmature coalbed
(mines) at various ranks in different geological ages. The methane in the southern Qinshui Basin. It is a common
results indicated that CH4 is a predominant constituent of phenomenon that can be seen in other basins.
coalbed methane composition, with a content variation in The causes of carbon isotope difference between
a range of 66.55% to 99.98%, and normally from 85% to coalbed methane and conventional natural gas vary. The
93%. The CO2 content is 0 to 35.58% and normally less carbon isotopes of methane in conventional natural gas are
than 2%; and that of N2 varies greatly but is usually less mainly affected by the thermal evolution Ro of kerogen
than 10%. The percentages of heavier hydrocarbon gas vary and source rocks, and the d13C1 - Ro evolutional lines of
Chapter | 4
TABLE 4-5 Typical Coalbed Methane in China and Comparison of Compositions and Carbon Isotopes between Coalbed Methane in China and Abroad
Major gas-

Coalbed Methane
Type Basin Gas field zone Reservoir Composition (%) Carbon isotope (%)

CH4 C2H6 C3H8 nC4H10 nC5H12 CO2 N2 13

d C1 d13C2 d13C3 d13C4
Conventional Sichuan, China Xinchang J2, J3 Sandstone 94.19 3.6 0.66 0? 0? 0.68 0.57 35.76 23.32 24.84 20.54
natural gas
Sichuan, China Pingluoba T3 Sandstone 96.38 2.04 0.26 0.04 0.01 0.47 0.56 35.51 22.42 21.65 23.94
Ordos, China Upper P Sandstone 90.8 2.74 0.51 0.1 0? 1.1 2.73 32.41 24.73 24.63 23.27
natural gas
Tarim, China Yaha E,N1j Sandstone 82.32 7.45 2.51 0.62 0.2 1.13 4.91 35 23.5 22.5 23.3
Tarim, China Kela-2 K,E Sandstone 96.58 0.48 0.08 0 0 1.07 1.76 27.3 18.94 18.5 0?
Qaidam, China Tainan Q Sandstone 99.09 0.05 0.02 0? 0? 0.59 0.87 68.4 46.52 32.58 0?
Qaidam, China Sebei-2 Q Sandstone 98 0.16 0.04 0? 0? 0.41 2.11 66.11 0? 0? 0?

Qaidam, China Sebei-1 Q Sandstone 99.24 0.06 0.02 0? 0? 0? 0.68 68.51 0? 0? 0?

Yingqiong, China Ya 13-1 E Sandstone 86.3 2.69 1.15 0.29 0.08 8.12 1.08 36.51 25.82 24.7 24.12
Yingqiong, China Dongfang 1-1 N Sandstone 59.83 0.98 0.27 0.07 0.07 25.9 12.89 34.71 25.69 25.63 23.78
Coalbed Qinshui, China Jincheng P Coal-bearing 98.87 0 0 0 0 0.15 0.94 31.95 0? 0? 0?
methane rock
Fuxin, China Liujia K Coal-bearing 97.76 0.02 0 0 0 0.79 1.43 46.4 0? 0? 0?
Huainan, China Xinji P Coal-bearing 99.75 0 0 0 0 0.2 0? 49.65 0? 0? 0?
Powder River, E Coal-bearing 98.6 0 0 0 0 1.4 0? 62.33 0? 0? 0?
U.S.A. rock
San Juan, U.S.A. K Coal-bearing 97 0 0 0 0 3 0? 41.12 0? 0? 0?

Black Warrior, C Coal-bearing 99.64 0 0 0 0 0? 0? 43.33 0? 0? 0?

U.S.A. rock

130 Unconventional Petroleum Geology

FIGURE 4-20 d 13C1 - Ro relationship of coalbed methane,

coal-formed gas, and oil-formed gas in China. 90 Oil-formed gas and Coal-formed gas and Coalbed methane
its regression line its regression line








0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.8 1.0 1.25 1.5 2.0 2.5 3.0 4.0 5.0 6.0
Ro (%)

coal-formed gas and oil-formed gas are different and uplift. Some basins even experienced multiple cycles.
(Figure 4-20). The carbon isotopes of methane in coalbed However, the structural evolution of burial and uplift of
methane are influenced by hydrocarbon generation and coal beds determines the evolution of reservoir formation
late reformation (the reformation occurred at the time less for coalbed methane.
10Ma), of which the former is similar to that of conven- Figure 4-21 is a schematic diagram for coalbed methane
tional natural gas, being primarily affected by the thermal evolution and the primary mechanism of reservoir forma-
maturity of the coal-bearing rock. Late reformation is tion. As coal beds were buried and elevated, the coalbed
affected by factors such as desorption, biological action, methane generation process mainly underwent the genera-
and hydrodynamic action. Conventional natural gas is tion and adsorption stage, adsorption capacity increase in the
dominated by free gas, while coalbed methane is domi- coal bed, and cycle of desorptionediffusioneretention. The
nated by adsorbed gas, and its composition and isotopes stage of coalbed methane generation and adsorption covers
may change during later desorption. The typical bioge- the coalbed methane generationeadsorption phase resulting
netic gas shows fewer effects of biodegradation in the from coalbed burial, and that resulted from an abnormal
large to medium coalbed methane reservoirs discovered in thermal event. The stage of desorptionediffusioneretention
China. However, the burial depths of coalbed methane mainly involves mechanisms of diffusion in caprock and
reservoirs under commercial production and utilization dissolution in underground water. The coalbed methane
currently tend to be less than 2000 m, and biodegradation retained under various mechanisms became todays coalbed
is the cause for the lighter carbon isotopes of methane in methane.
coalbed methane than that in conventional coal-formed The present enrichment of coalbed methane has resulted
gas originateing from source rocks with similar maturity from the integrated effects of inversional elevation and the
(Scott, 1993; Ayers, 2002). Coalbed methane is greatly late evolution of a coal-forming basin on coalbed methane
affected by hydrodynamic conditions, which change the retention and spoiling. The process of elevated inversion of
isotope composition of methane through aqueous a coal bed involves the change in pressure and temperature
dissolution. due to variations in the overlying formation thickness,
which controls the gas-bearing capacity of the coal bed.
Therefore, the minimum thickness of the overlying
3. EVOLUTIONARY PROCESS OF formation in geological history determines the gas-bearing
capacity of a coal bed.
Three geological modes for coalbed methane reservoir
Analysis of the evolution of structures in Chinese coal- formation at high to medium rank and one mode favorable
bearing basins indicates that, except for the basins with low to reservoir formation at low rank are summarized below,
metamorphism, most of the basins experienced the evolu- based on physical modeling and experiments taking into
tionary stages of subsidence and inversional elevation, and account the above-mentioned history of coalbed methane
the coal beds experienced the structural evolution of burial reservoir formation.
Chapter | 4 Coalbed Methane 131

Geological age FIGURE 4-21 Schematic diagram of

0 coalbed methane evolution and related
primary mechanisms for reservoir
Present coalbed formation.
methane reservoir
1000 Bu Desorption-
lg diffusion
Theoretical maximum Retention
Burial depth (m)



Underground water dissolution

Diffusion and preservation

Abnormal thermal

Increase of


3000 capacity

4000 eneration-a
vent g
al e

1) The mode most favorable to enrichment is when the methane. The resulting generated coalbed methane
coal bed is inverted and uplifted to a position beneath can be retained in situ (Powder River Basin), or
the weathered zone, and then is subsided, but does not migrated to a detention area for enrichment under the
exceed the depth prior to uplift. The coalbed gas- action of underground water (Fuxin Basin). In the
bearing capacity depends on the minimum thickness of Fuxin Basin, the reservoirs usually occur in massive
the overlying formation in geological history. The coal beds or coal measures and constitute huge
greater the thickness, the higher the gas-bearing resources, further offsetting the defects of low coalbed
capacity. The gas saturation is higher than that of gas-bearing capacity.
mode II.
2) Mode II is fairly favorable to enrichment. The coal bed
subsides after regional inversion and uplift and exceeds 4. DISTRIBUTION RULE OF COALBED
the depth prior to uplift. The coalbed gas-bearing
capacity depends on the minimum thickness of the
overlying formation in geological history. Without Research work on the high-ranking, coal-bearing basins in
contributions from exotic gas sources, the gas saturation China and abroad shows that coalbed methane tends to be
depends on the thickness of the resubsided formation. enriched in synclinal structures in broad regional settings. For
The greater the thickness of the resubsided formation, example, this tendency can be seen in the coal fields or
the lower the gas saturation. secondary structural belts in the San Juan Basin. Regardless of
3) Mode III is unfavorable to enrichment. The coal bed whether or not they are affected by coal rank, the gas-bearing
continues to uplift into the weathered zone after capacity of coal beds is high at the core of the syncline, with
regional inversion and uplift, resulting in low gas- the capacity increasing from basin margin to basin center
bearing capacity and low gas saturation, normally (Figure 4-22). In Qinshui Basin, China, the same observation
below the gas-bearing capacity for coalbed methane can be made in synclines. In cross section, it is a complete
reservoir formation. synclinorium basin. The gas-bearing capacity is remarkably
4) Mode IV is favorable to reservoir formation at low higher in the syncline than at the two flanks. For example, in
coal rank. Compared to high coal rank, the process of the southern synclinorium of the Qinshui Basin, the strata are
low-ranking coalbed methane reservoir formation is open, wide, and flat, with a formation dip of only about 4 . In
simple, and the inversional uplift amplitude is small this area, low, flat, and parallel folds were well developed in
after subsidence and hydrocarbon generation. a NNE and nearly S-N direction, being typical long axis-type
Secondary generation of hydrocarbon does not usually folds. For coalbed methane distribution in the Jincheng area,
occur. Even if contact metamorphism of coal results the gas-bearing capacity is as low as 5 to 15 m3/t generally in
from a magma intrusion, the effect is localized. The the axial part of an anticline. This is especially obvious in the
underground runoff zone is the site favorable to the Macun anticline of the western Pangzhuang mine. The gas-
generation of secondary biogenic gas, providing bearing capacity is as high as 15 m3/t in the axial part and the
a continuous contribution for the low-ranking coalbed flanks of a syncline (Figure 4-23).
132 Unconventional Petroleum Geology

FIGURE 4-22 Contour map of coalbed gas-bearing capacity (m3/t) in the Fruitland Formation, San Juan Basin.

FIGURE 4-23 Relationship between structural morphology and gas-bearing capacity of No. 3 coal, Jincheng area, Qinshui Basin. O2feFengfeng
Formation; C2beBenxi Formation; C2teTaiyuan Formation; P1seShanxi Formation; P1xeLower Shihezi Formation; P2seUpper Shihezi Formation.
Chapter | 4 Coalbed Methane 133

FIGURE 4-24 Mode of coalbed methane enrichment in synclinal structures.

From the above analysis, we see that a rule of gas 1. EVALUATION OF COALBED METHANE
enrichment in synclines not only exists, but also is sup- RESOURCES
ported by a mechanism. The rule of enrichment is the
integrated effects of structural evolution, hydrodynamic On the basis of the International Energy Agencys (IEAs)
conditions, and confinement. The mode of coalbed methane statistical information and associated data, it is estimated
enrichment in synclines is described in Figure 4-24. In the that global coalbed methane resources have increased to
regional setting of a synclinal structure, meteoric water 256.1  1012 m3 and are distributed primarily in 12
seeps toward the synclines axis with low potential along countries (Table 4-6). From Table 4-6, it can be seen that
the margins outcrop. A catchment area is formed in the
synclinal area where the salinity is high, and lateral water
blockage can occur in the marginal uplift area to create TABLE 4-6 Statistics of Coalbed Methane and Coal
a good environment for retention. The overlying coalbed Resources in the Major Coal-Producing Countries
formation in the axial part of the syncline is thicker than Worldwide
that in the marginal part, higher formation pressures are Coal
maintained, and gas adsorption capacity is high in the coal Coalbed methane resource
beds. In terms of structure, the axial part of a syncline is an Country resource (1012 m3) (108 t) Remarks
area with great subsidence of strata. Because of subsidence
Russia 17e113 65,000
and deep burial, coal beds can be fully thermoevoluted,
which is favorable to gas generation. Meanwhile, in the Canada 6e76 70,000
axial part of a syncline, faults and fractures are not devel- China 32.86 55,700 After Zhang
oped and the cap rock is stable, favorable to coalbed et al., 2002
methane enrichment. Therefore, a synclinal structure is
United States 21.38 39,700
generally characterized by high gas-bearing capacity in the
axial part, which decreases toward the marginal uplift until Australia 8e14 17,000
weathered and oxidized zones are exposed. Germany 3 3200
Poland 3 1600

United 2 1900
Ukraine 2 1400
RESOURCES Kazakhstan 1 1700
India <1 1600
Compared to resources of conventional natural gas, the
evaluation of coalbed methane resources has a fairly South Africa <1 1500 Including
South Africa,
limited scope and the evaluation accuracy is low. Many
rounds of evaluation for coalbed methane resources have and Botswana
been performed in China and abroad. This section presents
Total 98e270 260,300
a review based mainly on the research results of Zhang
et al. (2002) and Zhang and Zhao (2008).
134 Unconventional Petroleum Geology

countries rich in coal resources are also rich in coalbed methane resources in Russia, Canada, China, and the
methane resources. Russia, for example, has coal resources United States total 243  1012 m3, accounting for about
of 6.5  1012 t and coalbed methane resources of 17 to 113 90% of the total worldwide. In China, the exploration
 1012 m3, the highest worldwide. activity for coalbed methane is still at a low level. Based
Since the 1980s, many institutions and individuals in on 2009 statistics, the national proven coalbed methane in
China have made estimates of the national coalbed China was up to 1781  108 m3, annual production was
methane resources. Results are shown in Table 4-7. 7  108 m3, and gas deliverability was 25  108 m3. The
According to the latest estimate, coalbed methane coalbed methane sector is now entering a phase of rapid
resources in China are 32.86  1012 m3, exceeding the development as China seeks to increase production of
U.S. total. and in third place worldwide. The coalbed coalbed methane.

TABLE 4-7 Estimate of Coalbed Methane Resources in China (after Zhang et al., 2008)

Resource (1012 m3)

Researcher Original Technically Recoverable Calculated Scope

Jiaozuo Mining Institute 31.92 All the recoverable coal beds

(1987) in the country
Li and Zhang (1990) 32.15 All the recoverable coal beds
in the country
Petroleum Geology Research 10.6e25.2
Institute, Geology & Mineral
Resources Ministry (1990)

Zhang Xinmin et al. (1991) 30e35 Excluding lignite and coal

beds C1 and P1 in Tibet,
Guangdong, Fujian, Taiwan,
and South China
China Unified Distribution 24.75 Recoverable coalbed methane
Coal Mine Corporation (1992) resources in all the
recoverable coal beds in the
Duan (1992) 36.30
Guan (1992) 25e50

Zhang et al. (1995) 32.68 Excluding lignite and coal

beds C1 and P1 in Tibet,
Guangdong, Fujian, Taiwan,
and South China
Ye et al. (1998) 14.34 Excluding shallow areas with
coalbed methane content less
than 4 m3/t

Zhang et al. (2000) 31.46 Excluding lignite and coal

beds P1 in Tibet, Guangdong,
Fujian, Taiwan, and South
Ministry of Land & 36.81 10.87 Excluding coal beds P1 in
Resources, National Tibet, Guangdong, Fujian,
Development & Reform Taiwan, and South China
Commission (2006)
National 973 Coalbed 32.86 13.90 Excluding coal beds P1 in
Methane Project (2007) Tibet, Guangdong, Fujian,
Taiwan, and South China
Chapter | 4 Coalbed Methane 135

2. DISTRIBUTION OF COALBED 12.6  108 m3. See Table 4-8 for a summary of the technically
recoverable reserves of coalbed methane in basins.
The resources in coal beds are calculated in terms of
In Chinas geological history, there were 14 coal-forming three depth intervals: shallower than 1000 m, 1000 to 1500
periods, including eight primary periods: (1) Early Carbon- m, and 1500 to 2000 m. Currently, the intervals with burial
iferous, (2) Carboniferous-Permian, (3) Late Permian, depths of coal beds less than 1000 m are the most favorable
(4) Late Triassic, (5) Early-Middle Jurassic, (6) Cretaceous, zones for coalbed methane exploration and development in
(7) Eogene, and (8) Neogene. The technically recoverable China, as well as in the future. In this depth interval, the
reserves of coalbed methane generated during the Carbonif- technically recoverable reserves of coalbed methane are the
erous, Permian, Late Permian, Early-Middle Jurassic, and greatest at 53,206.88  108 m3, accounting for 38.28% of
Cretaceous are 138,140.08  108 m3, accounting for 99.39%, the total. Those in the interval from 1000 to 1500 m are
and those in other coal-forming periods are only 836.67  40,686.01  108 m3, accounting for 29.28%, and those in
108 m3, accounting for 0.6%. The technically recoverable the interval from 1500 to 2000 m are 45,083.86  108 m3,
reserves of coalbed methane generated in the Early-Middle accounting for 32.44%. The total technically recoverable
Jurassic are the greatest at 72,940.67  108 m3, accounting for reserves from these two depth intervals is 85,769.87 
52.48%; those in the Carboniferous and Permian are in second 108 m3, accounting for 61.72%. Under current economic
place at 47,783.1  108 m3, accounting for 34.38%; and those and technical conditions, exploration and development of
generated in other periods are relatively small at only coalbed methane in the intervals from 1000 to 1500 m and
18,252.98  108 m3, accounting for 13.13%. 1500 to 2000 m are difficult, and these are regarded as
The distribution of coalbed methane resources in China standby resource zones. In the short term, great expendi-
varies greatly and affects the distribution of coal resources tures of money and effort will not be forthcoming to
and technically recoverable reserves. From statistical data, explore and develop in these zones.
it can be shown that the distribution of coalbed methane Coalbed methane can be divided into four metamorphic
resources is consistent with that of the technically recov- types: (1) lignite, (2) low-grade metamorphic, (3) interme-
erable reserves in China. Resources (and hence reserves) diate-grade metamorphic, and (4) high-grade metamorphic
are mainly concentrated in the central and western areas, coalbed methane resources. The low-grade metamorphic
with a minor amount in East China and scarce amounts in coalbed methane has the highest amount of the technically
South China. In the Shanxi-Shaanxi-Inner Mongolia gas- recoverable reserves at 81,699.14  108 m3, accounting for
bearing area in central China, the technically recoverable 58.79%; and the intermediate-grade metamorphic coalbed
reserves are the highest at 66,541.85  108 m3, accounting methane is in second place at 30,682.13  108 m3,
for 47.88% of the national total; the Beijiang gas-bearing accounting for 22.08%. Lignite coalbed methane has the
area in the west is in second place at 37,501.34  108 m3, lowest resources at 6,381.96  108 m3, accounting for
accounting for 26.98%; and the South China gas-bearing 4.59%; and those of high-grade metamorphic coalbed
area is the lowest at 475.22  108 m3. The total in the methane are 20,213.52  108 m3, accounting for 14.54%.
Shanxi-Shaanxi-Inner Mongolia and Beijiang gas-bearing
areas is 104,043.19  108 m3, accounting for 75% of the 3. CANDIDATES FOR COALBED
national total, and those in the other six gas-bearing areas
are only 34,933.56  108 m3, accounting for 25%.
The technically recoverable reserves of coalbed methane Zhang et al. (2002) and Zhang and Zhao (2008) evaluated
in different coal-bearing basins in China vary remarkably. the resources of coalbed methane in China and divided the
There are four basins with technically recoverable reserves of evaluated areas from small to large as gas-bearing areas,
coalbed methane greater than 1  1012 m3, including Ordos, gas-bearing zones, and enrichment areas, respectively, of
Qinshui, Tuha, and Junggar Basins. The technically recov- which the enrichment areas were regarded as the target
erable reserves of coalbed methane in these four basins are areas for coalbed methane exploration and development.
85,825.9  108 m3 in total, accounting for 61.8% of the In China, the coalbed methane resource areas are divided
national total; those in other basins (or areas) are only into 58 gas-bearing zones in eight gas-bearing areas (Figure
53,150.8  108 m3, accounting for 38.2%. Of all the coal- 4-25) (Zhang et al., 2002). Those in the eastern part (Hei-
bearing basins, the technically recoverable reserves of coal- longjiang-Jilin-Liaoning) include seven gas-bearing zones:
bed methane in the Ordos Basin is the greatest at 42,346.78  (1) Sanjiang-Mulinghe, (2) Yanbian, (3) Hunjiang-Liaoyang,
108 m3, accounting for 30.47% of the countrys total. Qinshui (4) Fushun, (5) Liaoxi, (6) eastern Songliao, and (7) south-
Basin is in second place at 15,939.60  108 m3, accounting for western Songliao. Those in the Hebei-Shandong-Henan-
11.47%; Tuha Basin is in third place at 14,275.56  108 m3, Anhui areas include 11 gas-bearing zones: (1) eastern Jibei,
accounting for 10.27%; Junggar Basin is in fourth place (2) Jingtang, (3) eastern Piedmont of Tiahangshan, (4) Jizhong
at 13,263.96  108 m3; and Songliao Basin has the least at plain, (5) North Henan-Southwest Shandong, (6) Middle
136 Unconventional Petroleum Geology

TABLE 4-8 Comparison of Technically Recoverable Reserves of Coalbed Methane in Coal-Bearing Basins (or areas)
in China (after Zhang et al., 2008)

Technically Technically
recoverable recoverable
reserves reserves
Basin (area) (108 m3) Percent (%) Basin (area) (108 m3) Percent (%)

Songliao Basin 12.60 0.01 Ordos Basin 42,346.78 30.47

Hegang Basin 258.34 0.19 Zhangjiakou Basin 27.91 0.02
Sanjiang-Mulinghe Basin 945.54 0.68 Xiahuayuan Basin 16.37 0.01
Yilan-Yitong Basin 36.19 0.03 Weixian Basin 68.25 0.05

Dunhua-Meihe Basin 24.52 0.02 Datong Basin 125.10 0.09

Tielin-Changtu Basin 63.88 0.05 Ningwu Basin 1685.99 1.21
Fuxin-Yixian Basin 28.71 0.02 Hoxi Basin 3877.51 2.79
Xialiaohe Basin 152.33 0.11 Qinshui Basin 15,939.60 11.47
Fushun Basin 28.23 0.02 Sanmenxia-Luoyang 251.53 0.18
Hongyang area 224.68 0.16 Sichuan Basin 588.07 0.42
Eastern Jibei 31.28 0.02 Chuannan-Qianbei area 2323.50 1.67
Jingxi Basin 68.67 0.05 Qiannan Basin 117.23 0.08

Tangshan Basin 459.79 0.33 Zhaotong Basin 346.84 0.25

Southern Bohai Bay Basin 2480.15 1.78 Nanpenjiang Basin 5724.65 4.12
Eastern Piedmont of 2080.81 1.50 Chuxiong Basin 89.66 0.06
Taihangshan area
Huangxian Basin 46.06 0.03 Junggar Basin 13263.96 9.54
Southern Huabei Basin 6042.51 4.35 Santanghu Basin 1685.58 1.21
Edongnan-Gangbei Basin 15.89 0.01 Tuha Basin 14,275.56 10.27
Zhengjiang-Anqing Basin 22.01 0.02 Yili Basin 6346.60 4.57
Changzhou Basin 38.85 0.03 Youerdus Basin 224.44 0.16

Xiangzhong Basin 105.50 0.08 Yanqi Basin 1705.20 1.23

Chenlei Basin 96.30 0.07 Tarim Basin 3488.44 2.51
Pingle Basin 131.27 0.09 Qaidam Basin 253.46 0.18
Guizhong Basin 48.37 0.03 Chaoshui Basin 108.98 0.08
Baise Basin 17.04 0.01 Zhongqilian Basin group 849.93 0.61
Hailaer Basin group 2745.77 1.98 Minle Basin group 134.77 0.10

Erlianhaote Basin group 4245.61 3.05 Ganningmongbian area 408.35 0.29

Yingchuan Basin 2202.81 1.59 Xining-Lanzhou Basin 48.76 0.04

Shandong, (7) Southwest Shandong, (8) West Henan, (9) East boundary, (5) Pingle, (6) Middle Hunan, (7) South Hunan,
Henan, (10) Xuhuai, and (11) Huainan. Those in the South and (8) North Guangxi. Those in the eastern and central
China area include eight gas-bearing zones: (1) southeastern Inner Mongolia areas (Shanxi-Shaanxi-Inner Mongolia)
Hubei-North Jiangxi, (2) Yangtzi River downstream, include 11 gas-bearing zones: (1) western Jibei, (2) Daning,
(3) Jiangsu-Zhejiang-Anhui boundary, (4) Jiangxi-Zhejiang (3) Qinshui, (4) Hoxi, (5) eastern margin of Ordos Basin,
Chapter | 4 Coalbed Methane 137

FIGURE 4-25 Zoning of coalbed methane resources in China (after Zhang et al., 2002). IeHei-Ji-Liao: 1. SanjiangeMulinghe; 2. Yanbian; 3.
HunjiangeLiaoyang; 4. Fushun; 5. Liaoxi; 6. Eastern Songliao; 7. Southwest Songliao. IIeHebei-Shandong-Henan-Anhui: 8. Eastern Jibei; 9. Jingtang;
10. Eastern piedmond of Tiahangshan; 11. Jizhong plain; 12. North Henan-Northwest Shandong; 13. Middle Shandong; 14. Southwest Shandong; 15.West
Henan; 16. East Henan; 17. Xuhuai; 18. Huainan. IIIeSouth China: 19. Southeast Hubei-North Jiangxi; 20.Yangtzi River downstream; 21. Jiangsu-
Zhejiang-Anhui boundary; 22. Jiangxi-Zhejiang boundary; 23. Pingle; 24. Middle Hunan; 25. South Hunan: 26. Middle-North Guangxi. IV.eEastern
Inner Mongolia. VeShanxi-Shaanxi-Inner Mongolia: 27. Western Jibei; 28. Daning; 29. Qinshui; 30. Hoxi; 31. Eastern margin of Ordos Basin; 32.
Weibei; 33. Northern Ordos Basin; 34. Western Ordos Basin; 35. Zhuo-He; 36. North Shaanxi; 37. Huanglong. VIeYunnan-Guizhou-Sichuan-Chongqing:
38. Huayingshan; 39.Yongrong; 40.Yale; 41.South Sichuan-North Guizhou; 42. Guiyang; 43. Liupenshui; 44. Dukou Chuxiong. VII - Beijiang: 45.Tuha;
46. SantangeNaomaohu; 47. South Junggar; 48. East Junggar; 49. North Junggar; 50. Yili; 51. Youerdus: 52. Yanqi. VIIIeNanjiang - Ganqing: 53. Inner
Mongolia-Gansu-Ningxia boundary; 54. XiningeLanzhou; 55. Hexi Corridor; 56. North Qaidam; 57. East Tarim; 58. North Tarim.

(6) Weibei, (7) northern Ordos Basin, (8) western Ordos Songliao-Liaoxi, Hunjiang-Liaohe, South Junggar, and East
Basin, (9) Zuo-He, (10) Shaanbei, and (11) Huanglong In Yunnan-West Guizhou areas are preferred exploration targets.
the Yunnan-Guizhou-Sichuan-Chongqing areas are seven On the basis of gas-bearing zonation, Zhang and Zhao
gas-bearing zones: (1) Huayingshan, (2) Yongrong, (3) Yale, (2008) further divided the country into 115 enrichment
(4) South Sichuan-North Guizhong, (5) Guiyang, (6) Liu- areas, which have an areal extent ranging from 10 to 19,070
penshui, and (7) Dukou Chuxiong. The western part km2 and averaging 1,095 km2. The resource abundance is
(Beijiang) includes eight gas-bearing zones: (1) Tuha, 0.06 to 8.77  108 m3/km2, with a weighted average of 1.16
(2) Santang-Naomaohu, (3) South Junggar, (4) East Junggar,  108 m3/km2. According to the classification criteria for
(5) North Junggar, (6) Yili, (7) Youerdus, and (8) Yanqi. The resources in Chinas coalbed methane enrichment areas (Ye
Nanjiang-Ganqing area includes six gas-bearing zones: et al., 1998), two limits of 200 km2 and 900 km2 were used
(1) Inner Mongolia-Gansu-Ningxia boundary, (2) Xining- to delineate the enrichment areas, and the above weighted-
Lanzhou, (3) Hexi Corridor, (4) North Qaidam, (5) East average value was used as the resource abundance. On the
Tarim, and (6) North Tarim. basis of these criteria, 115 coalbed methane enrichment
In the above-mentioned 58 gas-bearing zones, the geolog- areas in the country have been grouped into nine categories
ical conditions in the Jingtang, eastern Taihangshan, Qinshui, by taking into account the two limits for resource abun-
eastern margin of Ordos Basin, Xuhuai, Sanjiang-Mulinghe, dance as 0.5  108 m3/km2 and 1.5  108 m3/km2.
138 Unconventional Petroleum Geology

The enrichment areas are mainly distributed in only two developed. The southern basin became a focus for coalbed
districts, (1) North China, and (2) South China, which have methane exploration and development in China.
a total share of 81.74% of the countrys resources. The
following enrichment areas with burial depths of less than
1500 m are considered the most promising targets for
(2) Features of Coalbed Methane
exploration of coalbed methane: Hanchen, Yangquan- In the southern Qinshui Basin, the major coal beds with
Shouyang, Fengfeng-Handan, Huaibei, Pingdingshan, coalbed methane involved are the Shanxi Formation (No. 3
Liliu-Sanjiao, Jinchen, Kailuan, Huainan, Wupu, Anyang- coal) and Taiyuan Formation (No. 15 coal) (Figure 4-26).
Hebi, Jiaozuo, Hongyang, and Fushun. For No. 15 coal, the thickness of the coal bed is generally
1 to 6 m, averaging 3 m. The coal beds tend to be consis-
tently thick in the east and thin in the west, and thick in the
SECTION 6. CASE STUDY north and thin in the south. For No. 3 coal, the thickness of
the coal bed is generally 4 to 7 m, averaging 6 m, and the
For different coal ranks, the geological setting, character-
coal beds tend to be thick in the east and thin in west on
istics of the gas reservoir, and reservoir-forming process
the whole (Figure 4-27). No. 15 coal is buried at a depth of
differs remarkably. In this section we present three basins
0 to 900 m and generally not greater than 700 m. The burial
as examples: (1) the high-ranking coalbed methane in the
depth of No. 3 coal bed is several dozen meters shallower
Chinese Qinshui Basin, (2) the medium-ranking coalbed
than that of No. 15 coal. This burial depth is very favorable
methane in the San Juan Basin, and (3) the low-ranking
for coalbed methane development.
coalbed methane in the Powder River Basin. The features
The coalbed methane-bearing capacity is high in the
and reservoir-forming mechanisms of various types of
southern Qinshui Basin, and that of No. 3 coal is higher than
coalbed methane in these basins are illustrated.
that of No. 15 coal. The Shanxi Formation No. 3 coal bed has
a gas-bearing capacity from 8 to 30 m3/t with a maximum of
1. HIGH-RANKING COALBED METHANE 37 m3/t, while the Taiyuan Formation No. 15 coal bed has
a gas-bearing capacity from 10 to 20 m3/t and a maximum of
26 m3/t. The coalbed methane-bearing capacity is high in the
The Qinshui Basin was the earliest coal-bearing basin in Duanshi-Panzhuang-Fanzhuang area, being a primary area of
China to be commercially developed for coalbed methane, coalbed methane enrichment. In addition, in the Zaoyuan
and currently has the highest production of coalbed study area, the coalbed methane-bearing capacity is relatively
methane in the country. It is considered representative of high, forming a small center of coalbed methane enrichment.
basins with high-ranking coalbed methane in the world. The gas saturation in No. 3 coal is 87% to 98%, averaging
Through the recent exploration efforts made by China 93%, while that in the No. 15 coal is 71% to 76%, averaging
United Coalbed Methane Co., Ltd., PetroChina Coalbed 74%. The entire coalbed methane resource is high, up to 2 
Methane Company Ltd., and Lanyan Coalbed Methane 108 m3/km2. Taking a methane content of 80% as the lower
Co., Ltd., high-yield coalbed methane wells have been limit, the depth of the coalbed methane weathered and
completed in Panzhuang, Sizhuang, and Fanzhuang in the oxidized zone in shallow strata is generally about 180 m.
southern basin. These wells have a maximum yield of Methane gas is predominant in coalbed methane, with
up to 16,000 m3/d, and a stable production of 2,000 to a content normally greater than 98%, typically in the range
3,000 m3/d on average. of 98.16% to 98.99%. In addition, coalbed methane has the
following constituents: N2 (0.96% to 1.63%), CO2 (0.02%
to 0.15%), and rare heavier hydrocarbon gas (C2)donly
(1) Geological Background
0.012% to 0.029%.
The Qinshui Basin is located in the south-central part of Pores in coal beds are dominated by micropores and
Shanxi Province and is confined on its periphery by the transit pores, with very few medium or macropores present.
Taihangshan, Zongtiaoshan, Lvliangshan, and Wutaishan Pores in coal beds have a certain connectivity, and the
uplifts. In the Carboniferous-Permian period, Indosinian effective porosity ranges from 1.15% to 7.69%, usually less
movement, especially Yanshan movement, elevated and than 5%. The permeability in coal beds ranges from 0.1 to
denuded the strata after coal-bearing sediments were 6.7  103 mm2, and usually not more than 2  103 mm2.
extensively deposited on the Permian Huabei Craton, Permeability has obvious directionality to it, exhibiting its
resulting in a number of Late Paleozoic residual basins, highest value along the primary direction of fissures.
including Qinshui Basin. Generally, this residual basin is From shallow to deep, permeability decreases gradually,
a NNE-trending broad synclinorium. Its structures are decreasing as ground stress increases.
simple, faults are rare, formation dip is about 50 , and In the southern Qinshui Basin, coal has high adsorption
broad and gentle NNE or near SN subsidiary folds were power, normally with the Langmuir volume between 28.08
Chapter | 4 Coalbed Methane 139

Form- GR(API) Thi- FIGURE 4-26 Composite columnar map of

Coal bed
Columnar ILD(OHMM)
ckn- Lithology
ation 0 100 200 ess map 2 20 200 CarboniferousePermian coal-bearing formations in
(m) Qinshui Basin.
Shanxi Formation

2 Composed of medium-fine
Lower Permian

grained sandstone, siltstone,

mudstone and 2 to 7 coal beds;

the lower No. 3 coal is the

primary coal bed in the basin;
3 accumulated in deltaic plain

Composed of mudstone,
arenaceous mudstone,
6 limestone, medium-fine
7 grained sandstone, siltstone
Upper Carboniferous
Taiyuan Formation

and 5 to 10 coal beds; the

8 lower No. 15 coal is the
primary coal bed in the

basin; accumulated in an
11 environment of lagoon,
13 carbonate platform,
and plain

Benxi Formation

16 Mainly bauxite, with siltstone

present, lagoon facies

Ordovician Limestone

Medium-grained Fine-grained Siltstone Mudstone Coal bed Bauxite Limestone

sandstone sandstone

N Zaoyuan Zaoyuan
N TL003
TL003 Duzhai

7. 0 Duzhai

4. 0 2. 0

3. 5
6. 0

Guxian 3.0

Guxian 5. 0 1. TL004

TL004 TL008 2 .0 1.5 TL008 5



5. 5
6. 0

6. 0



6. 0 2. 5
Fanzhuang Macun Js1 Fanzhuang Macun
Js1 6.0 2.0

6. 0 4.0
4. 5

5.0 Changjiazhuang
Duanshi 5. 0 TL006 2.0
Changjiazhuang TL007
TL007 Duanshi TL006 2.5

5.0 3.0

7. 0 6.0

6.0 5.0
3.5 3.0 4.0
P2 3.5

P2 TL011 Shicun 2. 5 TL011

Panzhuang Panzhuang

Jincheng Jincheng
Yangcheng Yangcheng
0 2 4km 0 2 4km

6 6.0

Town Coalbed methane Shanxi Formation Fault Isopach map (m) of No. 3 Town Coalbed methane Taiyuan Formation Fault Isopach map (m) of No. 15
well outcrop coal bed well outcrop coal bed

FIGURE 4-27 Isopach map of Shanxi Formation No. 3 coal bed (left) and Taiyuan Formation No. 15 coal bed (right).
140 Unconventional Petroleum Geology

and 57.87 m3/t, and the Langmuir pressure between 1.91 Thick, continuous, stable coal beds were formed in
and 3.99 MPa. Data from isothermal adsorption tests con- a favorable coal-forming environment during the Upper
ducted in the Jincheng area shows that the Langmuir Paleozoic, providing the basis for the accumulation and
volumes of raw coal and combustible mass are from 35.30 reservoir formation of coalbed methane. The Taiyuan
to 43.11 m3/t and 41.40 to 57.87 m3/t, respectively, and the Formation No. 15 and Shanxi Formation No. 3 coal beds
Langmuir pressure ranges from 2.13 to 3.77 MPa. are thick and have good continuity, shallow burial depth,
The reservoir pressure in the southern Qinshui Basin is moderate to fairly good permeability, and powerful
low. Normally, the reservoir pressure of No. 3 coal is 0.08 adsorption in the coal reservoir.
to 3.36 MPa, and that of No. 15 coal is 2.24 to 6.09 MPa. Two episodes of metamorphism in the Indosinian and
The pressure factor is usually less than 0.8, as these are Yanshan periods resulted in the formation of high-ranking
underpressured reservoirs. Normal pressure is seen only in anthracite with a vitrinite reflectance of 2.2% to 4.0%.
isolated areas, and abnormally high pressure is rare. Generous amounts of coalbed methane were generated in two
Most of the overlying seals of No. 3 coal are mudstone corresponding episodes of hydrocarbon generation, with the
and silty mudstone, or secondarily siltstone and fine sand- late generation of hydrocarbon playing a primary role.
stone, and the effective seals are usually 10 m thick or more. Thereafter, the generated coalbed methane was significantly
In the FanzhuangePanzhuang block, the seal thickness adjusted and restructured during the continuous uplift that
ranges from 24 to 55 m. In Well Jinshi-1, the effective seal of occurred in the Himalayan period, resulting in the present
No. 3 coal is 30 m thick, and the thickness of the Shanxi coalbed methane reservoirs in the southern Qinshui Basin.
Formation mudstone is 55.4 m. The regional caprock is 159 The coal beds have tops and bases with strong sealing
m thick; its base is dominated by silty mudstone with no properties and lateral confining boundaries, such as the
fissures developed, andit has a continuous spatial distribu- confining Sitou fault, underground water table, and
tion with a strong seal, favorable to preservation of coalbed hydrodynamic sealing along the outcrops. In the process of
methane. For No. 15 coal, the coal bed is overlain by rechargeemigrationeconvergence of underground water,
a shallow marine limestone (K2 limestone), having the recharge zoneerunoff zoneedetention zone were
a continuous distribution in the region. In the study area, formed spatially and sequentially. The shallow recharge
fissures were not developed in the limestone, contributing to zone acted as an escape zone for coalbed methane, having
its good sealing properties. Near Sitou fault, fissures were low gas-bearing capacity. In the central runoff zone, the
well developed in the limestone, creating a gas-permeable gas-bearing capacity is moderate, corresponding to the
stratum. The breakthrough pressure of the caprock underground runoff zone. The deep detention zone is
mudstone of No. 3 coal beds is 3 to 10 MPa, while that of No. favorable for coalbed methane accumulation, becoming an
15 coal beds is 2 to 15 MPa with a strong sealing capacity. area of high gas-bearing capacity.
From analysis of caprock type and distribution, structural
behavior, and fissure features, it was determined that No. 3
coal has higher gas-bearing capacity than No. 15 coal. The 2. MEDIUM-RANKING COALBED
distribution and sealing properties of the caprocks around METHANE IN SAN JUAN BASIN
Well Jinshi-1 are the most effective in the study area, having
the best preservation conditions and the highest coalbed
(1) Geological Background
methane-bearing capacity. The San Juan Basin is located in the east-central Colorado
The coalbed methane in the southern Qinshui Basin is plateau in northwestern New Mexico and southwestern
confined mainly by the boundary faults and lateral hydrody- Colorado in the United States. It is a circular, asymmetrical
namic forces. There may be confinement by a physical basin formed from the Late Cretaceous to the Eogene. In
boundary, but no direct evidence has been found as of this the basin, the Upper Cretaceous depositional center and
writing. The Sitou fault with sealing properties is located in synclinal axis are located parallel to and near the northern
the western part of the southern Qinshui Basin and the major and northeastern margins of the basin.
eastern and southern boundaries act as the hydrodynamic Coal beds are distributed over the whole of the Creta-
boundaries. The northern part of the gas reservoir is primarily ceous deposits in the basin; however, the most important
controlled by the underground water table, which is bounded coal beds and coalbed methane resources exist in the
by the outcrop in the east and the Sitou fault in the west. Fruitland Formation, which has an outcrop area of 17,350
km2.The coal beds are distributed 1280 m from the surface
(3) Reservoir-Formation Processes and to the underground in the Fruitland Formation. From
calculations it was determined that the coal resources in
Mechanisms of Coalbed Methane
coal beds with burial depths greater than 400 ft (122 m) in
The basement of the Qinshui Basin was formed in the pre- the Fruitland Formation are 2450  108 t and that the
Paleozoic period and the margins in the Cenozoic period. coalbed methane resources are from 43 to 49 Tcf. The
Chapter | 4 Coalbed Methane 141

coalbed methane enrichment area of the Fruitland Fairway methane wells in the basin are located in Zone 1; (2) Zone 2
is currently the largest in the world, covering an area of in the west-central basin in an underpressured area; and (3)
600 km2, with an annual production of about 50% of the Zone 3 in the east-central basin in an underpressured area
total coalbed methane production yearly in the United (Figure 4-28).
States. More than 2500  108 m3 of coalbed methane have As shown in Table 4-9, the coal beds in Zone 1 are
been produced from this enrichment area. thick, generally greater than 10 m, and the gas-bearing
capacity is high because the permeabilities are high.
Based on its gas permeability, Zone 1 can be further
(2) Features of Coalbed Methane divided into three subzonesdsubzones 1A, 1B, and 1C.
Analysis of the Fruitland Formation coalbed methane in the The maximum net thickness of coal in subzone 1A is 21
San Juan Basin shows that much of the gas is wet gas, m, and the coalbed methane-bearing capacity is high,
although most of the gas belongs to dry gas as far as its generally over 14 m3/t. The permeability is also high, at
chemical composition is concerned. The C1/C1-5 values in a maximum of 60  103 mm2. The highest gas production
the gas decomposed from Fruitland coal range from 0.81 to is between 28,000 and 168,000 m3/d, being the sweet
1.00. The ethane content in Fruitland coalbed methane varies spot in the San Juan Basin. This subzone is retained by an
in the range from 0 to more than 11%, and that of carbon underground water table and the reservoir pressure is high,
dioxide from less than 1% to more than 13%. The coalbed with a pressure gradient of more than 11.3 MPa/100 m,
methane with the highest percentage of carbon dioxide making it an overpressured reservoir. In subzones 1B and
comes from the north-central basin, while in the southern 1C, the coalbed thickness and gas-bearing capacity are
basin the carbon dioxide percentage is usually less than 1%. small compared to subzone 1A, with coalbed methane-
The hydrology and geology of the San Juan Basin can bearing capacity from 5.6 to 11.2 m3/t. The pressure
be divided into three zones: (1) Zone 1 in the overpressured gradient is 9.79 to 11.3 MPa/100 m because it is located at
area of the northern basin, being a catchment area for a weak runoff zone of underground water, making it an
underground water; most of the high-yield coalbed overpressured reservoir.

FIGURE 4-28 Pressure distribution and

0 10 20 30km
zonation in the San Juan Basin.
Subzone 1C

44 Canyon Bianco Tiffany
Subzone 1B o
Colorado state LAPLATA CO alb Carracas Unit ARCHULETA CO
New Mexico state SAN JUAN CO ed
Cedar Hillm
Allison Unit

Glades 11.
e tha Subzone 1A
9. 7 Zone 1NEBU ne
9 sw
Flora Vista po
Pinon Aziec

Zone 2 Kutz


Zone 3

Pressure gradient (kPa/m)

Data N/A
11.30~9.79 Well location

Coal study area

142 Unconventional Petroleum Geology

TABLE 4-9 Geological Characteristics of Coalbed Methane in San Juan and Powder River Basins, United States (after
Ayers, 2002)

Fruitland Formation, San Juan Basin

Subzones 1B and
Properties Subzone 1A 1C Zone 2 Zone 3 Powder River Basin

Net thickness of coal 15e21 10e20 9e15 9e15 15e65

Coal maturity High-volatility High-volatility High-volatility Mainly dominated Subbituminous coal
bituminous coal bituminous coal bituminous coal by high-volatility C and B
A to moderate- B to low-volatility B to low-volatility bituminous coal B
volatility bituminous coal bituminous coal and low-volatility
bituminous coal bituminous coal,
partially high-
volatility bituminous
coal A

Gas genesis Thermal genesis Thermal genesis Secondary thermal Primary and Biogenic gas
predominantly, predominantly, genesis secondary thermal
containing highly containing highly genesis
biogenic gas biogenic gas
Coalbed methane- > 14 5.6e11.2 < 4.25 < 4.25 0.45e2.15
bearing capacity

Resource abundance 1.64e3.28 1.64e2.73 0.32e1.64 0.32e1.64 1.74e2.16

Gas desiccation factor C1/C1-C5 >0.97 C1/C1-C5 >0.97 C1/C1-C5 >0.89 C1/C1-C5 >0.89 C1/C1-C5 >0.98
e0.98 e0.95
CO2 content (%) 3e13 1e6 < 1.5 < 1.5 Core desorbed as 8%,
gas producer < 2%
Permeability 15e60 10e35 5e25 <5 10e100
(103 mm2)
Highest gas production 28,000e616,8000 1400e14,000 850e14,000 < 1400 3700e9900
Pressure Overpressured Overpressured Underpressured Underpressured Normal to

In Zone 2, the highest gas production ranges from 850 to (3) Reservoir-Formation Processes and
14,000 m3/d, coalbed thickness from 9 to 15 m, and the coalbed
Mechanisms of Coalbed Methane
methane-bearing capacity is normally less than 4.25 m3/t.
However, the preservation conditions for coalbed methane are The productivity of coalbed methane reservoirs depends on
not as good as in Zone 1, as most of the reservoirs are under- a number of factors, including permeability, coal distribu-
pressured and the permeabilities are 5 to 25  103 mm2. tion and burial history (rank), gas-bearing capacity, fluid
In Zone 3, the highest gas production is less than 1,400 dynamics, depositional environment, and structural
m3/d, coalbed thickness ranges from 9 to 15 m, and the tendency. To effect high productivity, these associated
coalbed methane-bearing capacity is normally less than geological and hydrological conditions must all be optimal.
4.25 m3/t. The reservoirs are underpressured and the In the San Juan Basin, a magmatic thermal event
permeability is poor, normally less than 5  103 mm2. causing thermal evolution and fluid dynamics changes
Thick coal beds and a powerful gas-bearing capacity are occurred, resulting in the generation of a great deal of gas in
some reasons for the great abundance of coalbed methane the shallow parts of the north-central basin. The gas-
in Zone 1 in the San Juan Basin. High reservoir pressure bearing capacity was higher than expected, with the gas
and permeability also favor a high gas yield. migrating along the inflection line of the structural hinge
Chapter | 4 Coalbed Methane 143

FIGURE 4-29 Cross section of underground water system in the Fruitland Formation and Pictured Cliffs Sandstone, San Juan Basin (Scott et al., 1994;
Ayers, 2002).

and trapped by conventional fluid dynamics. Secondary immature, low-ranking coal beds. The basin lies in north-
biogenic gas was also generated in coal beds. The current eastern Wyoming and southeastern Montana in the United
hydrological system was created after a series of processes States, covering an area of 66,800 km2. The basin is an
such as burial, generation of thermogenic gas, elevation intermountain structural basin (residual basin) in a thrust
along the basin margins, and erosion (Figure 4-29, step 1). fault belt. It is bounded by the Black Hills to the east and
The underground water flowed along the hinge lines of by a series of complex basement nappe structures and
structural faults from the high-ranking coal (intermediate- Cretaceous-Eogene thrust faults to the west. In the basin,
and low-volatility asphaltene) with high gas-bearing coal to the structures of coal-bearing strata are simple, with rare
the low-ranking coal (high-volatility types B and A folds and faults. The synclinal center is located at the
asphaltene) (Figure 4-29, step 2). The underground water western margin of the basin. At the eastern flank of the
introduced bacteria that acted on the normal alkane and wet syncline, the formation dip is gentle (westward) at about
gas generated during coalification, thereby creating 2.5 . In the northern and northeastern parts of the basin, the
methane with a secondary biogenic origin and CO2 strata dip west-southwest at 1 , while the strata near the Big
(Figure 4-29, step 3). When underground water flowed Horn uplift on the western flank of the basin dip eastward
toward the basin, the continuously advancing front swept from 5 to 25 on average (Figure 4-30).
away the previously dissolved or entrapped gas, which was Scott (1999) estimated that the Powder River Basin has
finally adsorbed or filled the fissures of ordinary traps coalbed methane resources of 0.28 to 1.84  1012 m3 (most
(Figure 4-29, step 4). The remarkable contribution of fluid probably 0.849  1012 m3). The development history in the
dynamics to the coalbed methane enrichment is shown by Powder River Basin is relatively short, but production has
its maintenance of the equipotential surface in Fruitland, increased rapidly. In 1991, there were only 54 gas
coalbed methane composition, and production. producers in the basin, with an annual gas production of
2,500  104 m3. By the end of 1993, there were 332
coalbed methane producers. In October 2000, the number
3. LOW-RANKING COALBED METHANE rose to 4000. In 2001, there were 8167 gas producers, with
IN POWDER RIVER BASIN production up to 69  108 m3. As of 2003, there were more
than 12,000 coalbed methane producers, with their
(1) Geological Background
production ranked second place in the United States. The
The Powder River Basin is the most successful worldwide total production of 2003 was 145  108 m3, with those in
commercial development of coalbed methane from 2000 and 2001 accounting for 77%.
144 Unconventional Petroleum Geology

FIGURE 4-30 Regional section of Powder W E

River Basin (Scott, 1999). 15000 Big Horn
10000 Fort Union Formation Black Hills
Wasatch Formation
5000 EogeneNeogene

h (ft) 0
10000 Paleoz

In the Powder River Basin, the cleat porosity is nor-

(2) Features of Coalbed Methane
mally between 0.1% and 1.0%; and matrix porosity varies
In the Powder River Basin, the major coal-bearing strata greatly, from 1% to 10%, tending to decrease as burial
were deposited in the Eogene and Miocene. The target depth increases. In the basin, the fissure system in the coal
strata include the Fort Union Formations Tongue River reservoir is extremely high in general, in the range of 35 to
Member and Wasatch Formation coal beds. The Wasatch 500  103 mm2; also, the permeability of the coal matrix is
and Fort Union Formation coal beds range from lignite to very low and varies greatly, from 0.001  103 mm2 to 1.0
subbituminous coal (Ro 0.3%e0.4%), with local high-  103 mm2. The permeability of the Tongue River coal is
volatility bituminous coal C that is not capable of gener- very high, from 10  103 mm2 to 150  103 mm2, as it is
ating significant amounts of thermogenic methane. affected by folding, compressional structure, and minor
In the Fort Union Formation, the thickest coal bed faulting. In the Wyodak coal beds, the permeability varies
occurs in the 460- to 550-m-thick Tongue River Member, from 10  103 mm2 to several Darcies. The abnormally
with interbeds of Lebo shale and Tullock arenaceous high permeability in the Powder River Basin results from
mudstone as the underlying formation. In the northern and high cleat permeability in the coal beds themselves. For
eastern basin, Tongue River Member coal beds are well example, the massive coal beds in the Tongue River
exposed, revealing eight to ten layers of continuous Member have a thickness of 24 to 45 m, leading to high
subbituminous coal beds. The thickest coal bed is the conductivity of the coal beds; high permeability of the
Wyodak-Anderson coal bed exposed in the eastern margin interbedded sandstones in the coal beds; and a vertical cleat
of the basin, being 15 to 30 m thick and locally up to 45 m. system developed in the coal beds, which is connected to
Another important coal-bearing formation is the the sandstones.
Wasatch Formation, which is 305 to 610 m deep. It is The isothermal adsorption curves indicate that the
composed mainly of laterally discontinuous, fine- to adsorption volume increases as pressure rises, but with
medium-grained sandstone in the form of lenses and fine- small increments, they exhibit a flat adsorption curve. The
grained sediments such as interbedded shale, siltstone, Langmuir volume of coal is 15 m3/t, and the Langmuir
mudstone, and limestone. In the Wasatch Formation, there pressure is 9.66 MPa.
are eight thick and continuous coalbeds, and the one with The Eogene Wasatch Formation overlies the Tongue
the highest thickness and best continuity is located in the River Member in the Powder River Basin, being a fine- to
west-central part of the basin. The coal beds in the Wasatch medium-grained, lens-like sandstone and mudstone. The
Formation are thinner than those in the Fort Union mudstone is laterally discontinuous, with poor sealing
Formation, with thickness ranging from 9 to 16 m and up to properties. Sealing comes from the hydraulic seal formed
67 m locally. In most areas of the Powder River Basin, the by fluid resistance of in-pore network in the roof. The
overlying Wasatch Formation coal beds are thinner than 61 underlying seal comes from the Fort Union Formation
m; therefore, it is not a primary target for coalbed methane Lebo shale and Tullock Member. The Tullock Member is
development. 113 to 438 m (370 to 1440 ft) thick, composed of inter-
In the Powder River Basin, the composition of coalbed beds of laterally discontinuous, lens-like, fine- to medium-
methane is nearly 100% methane, with C1/C1-5 greater grained sandstone, mudstone, and a few limestone and
than 0.97, and a very low percentage of carbon dioxide thin coal beds, which have high permeability. The Lebo
(1.5% to 2%). This composition is consistent over the shale is from 152 to 518 m (499 to 1700 ft) thick,
whole basin. The gas-bearing capacity in coal beds is composed of interbeds of shale or mudstone with a few
generally low in the basin, normally from 0.78 to 1.6 m3/t, sandstone, siltstone, and coal beds. This shale acts as an
and usually do not top a maximum of 4 m3/t. The gas- aquifuge that separates the Tullock and Tongue Members,
bearing capacity increases as the burial depth of coal beds and is effectively a seal to Tongue Member coalbed
increases. methane.
Chapter | 4 Coalbed Methane 145

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