DOE's Unconventional Gas Research Programs 1976-1995
SOURCE: U.S. Department of the Interior, Minerals Management Service, Gulf of Mexico OCS Region

3.3.4. Highlights of Important Results

The DOE effort was aimed mostly at defining the size and recoverability of the resource base as well as the use of natural gas associated with active coalmine operations.

The DOE CBM resource assessments established that a large, 400-Tcf natural gas resource was contained in coal seams. Fifty-three field tests were conducted in 10 geologic areas. Efforts focused on successfully collecting and analyzing coal samples for determination of gas content and performing geophysical logging to determine coalbed depth and thickness. Drill stem tests were conducted at six test wells. Gas content analyses were obtained from more than 300 samples taken from more than 50 sites in 10 basins: Arkoma, Green River, Illinois, Northern Appalachian, Piceance, Powder River, San Juan, Warrior, Western Washington and Wind River. A similar report was prepared for the Richmond Basin of Virginia.

Basin reports were completed and published and estimated of gas-in-place determined for eleven basins: Arkoma, Greater Green River Region, Illinois, Piceance, Powder River, San Juan, Raton Mesa, Warrior, Western Washington, Uinta and Wind River. The total estimated CBM gas-in-place was determined to be between 45 and 259 Tcf.

A water jet directional drilling system designed to enhance production from vertical wells without the use of fracture treatments was built and field tested.

The feasibility of increasing the permeability of coal by igniting an explosive gas mixture within the natural fracture system of the coal seam was assessed and determined to be ineffective due to coal “fines” production.

Significant research was conducted to better understand the mechanisms controlling fracture initiation and propagation, leading to the confirmation that: in the absence of confining stresses, fractures will propagate along bedding planes, and that natural shale layers (stringers) within the coal have a definite influence on fracture toughness.

A drill cuttings desorption technique was tested to facilitate the determination of commercial quantities of methane during drilling without the need for coring procedures.

Production technology development efforts included the design, application and/or evaluation of 40 fracture treatments in six basins. These tests helped to demonstrate:

  • Technical feasibility of completing a well in multiple coal seams from a single wellbore,
  • Economic production could be achieved from a multiple completion in spite of low methane content of individual seams,
  • Predrainage of methane by drilling long, horizontal holes from within a mine is compatible with longwall mining operations,
  • Drilling of long, horizontal holes can be accomplished without a complicated guidance system if operators are trained to distinguish between the drill string’s response to drilling coal versus roof or floor rock,
  • Methane collection systems can be properly designed to safely collect gas from a number of boreholes and transport it to the surface using polyethylene pipe,
  • Nitrogen-generated foam appears to be suitable for stimulating coalbeds, and
  • Use of coalbed methane to provide fuel sources for onsite power generation, process heat and coal drying is technologically viable.
DOE’s initial coal-bed methane R&D program provided a significant portion of the basic R&D that formed the scientific knowledge base for this gas resource, and established the essential coal-bed methane storage and flow mechanisms, including adsorption, desorption, diffusion, and fracture-dominated flow.

A major breakthrough occurred when DOE demonstrated that CBM could be efficiently produced using vertical wells, as opposed to only using in-mine horizontal boreholes.

The program also supported field tests that demonstrated the mechanisms of methane storage and flow in a near-commercial setting (a closely spaced well pattern) and supported field tests of the performance and effectiveness of using hydraulic fracturing to stimulate gas flow from coal seams in a series of test wells followed by mine-back experiments. Conducted by the Bureau of Mines and later by DOE, these demonstrated the utility of this technology in coal-bed methane recovery and that coal seams could be efficiently and safely hydraulically fractured, thus accelerating the rates of gas flow in these low-permeability formations.

The National Research Council report titled“Energy Research at DOE: Was It Worth It? Energy Efficiency and Fossil Energy Research 1978 to 2000” published in 2001, reports economic benefits from DOE CBM research of $499 million (1999 dollars) in increased revenues and cost savings to producers, primarily from the Warrior and San Juan basins.

In addition, $91 million (1999 dollars) is credited from royalties on federal lands and from increased state severance taxes due to displacement of imports. If DOE were credited with one-third of the benefits, this would amount to about $200 million, compared to a total investment of about $30 million.

The DOE CBM program demonstrated that even with a modest amount of funding over a relatively short period, early involvement of public research can prove beneficial. The initial work by DOE led GRI to take up CBM R&D and make it a top priority, and it stimulated industry interest, which coupled with production incentives in the form of tax credits, created an entirely new supply of natural gas.

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Cover Page

Executive Summary

1. Background

2. GRI Research into Unconventional Gas Resources

3. Structure of the Enhanced Gas Recovery Program (EGR)

  • 3.1. Eastern Gas Shales Program (1976-1992)

  • 3.1.1. Key Questions and Related R&D Goals
  • 3.1.2. Program Design and Overview of Major Projects
  • 3.1.3. Key Eastern Gas Shales Projects
  • 3.1.4. Highlights of Important Results
  • 3.1.5. Subsequent Developments in DOE and Other Research Related to Eastern Gas Shales

  • 3.2. Western Gas Sands Program (1978-1992)

  • 3.2.1. Key Questions and Related R&D Goals
  • 3.2.2. Program Design and Overview of Major Projects
  • 3.2.3. Key Western Gas Sands Projects
  • 3.2.4. Highlights of Important Results
  • 3.2.5. Subsequent Developments in DOE Research Related to Tight Gas Sands

  • 3.3. Methane Recovery from Coalbeds Program (1978-1982)

  • 3.3.1. Key Questions Related to Coal Seam Methane
  • 3.3.2. MRCP Program Design and Overview
  • 3.3.3. Key Methane Recovery from Coalbeds Projects
  • 3.3.4. Highlights of Important Results
  • 3.3.5. Subsequent Research Related to Methane Recovery from Coalbeds

  • 3.4. Deep Source Gas Project (1982-1992)

  • 3.4.1. Key Deep Source Gas Projects
  • 3.4.2. Highlights of Important Results

  • 3.5. Methane Hydrates Program (1982-1992)

  • 3.5.1. Methane Hydrates Workshop (March 1982)
  • 3.5.2. Key Questions and Related R&D Goals
  • 3.5.3. Program Design
  • 3.5.4. Major Contracted Gas Hydrates Projects
  • 3.5.5. Methane Hydrate Research Efforts of METC's In-House Organization
  • 3.5.6. Highlights of Important Results
  • 3.5.7. Subsequent Developments in Methane Hydrate Research

  • 3.6. Secondary Gas Recovery (1987-1995)

  • 3.6.1. Key Objectives and Program Design
  • 3.6.2. Major Projects
  • 3.6.3. Major Results

    4. Elements of Spreadsheet Bibliographies (by Program)

    Appendix A: Details of Major 1970-1980 Unconventional Gas Resource Assessments

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