Commercial development of coalbed methane (CBM) in China has lasted for a decade. However, in 2015 annual CBM production in China was less than 5 Bcm and lagged far behind those in US (35 Bcm) and Australia (18 Bcm). In this paper, we review the published literature to determine the engineering challenges and opportunities of CBM production in China. Our review has identified seven major engineering challenges to CBM development in China. They are low cleat permeability and underpressured formation pressure of high-rank coals, ductility of coal seams, suboptimal fracturing fluids, formation damage during drilling, borehole instability in horizontal wells, frequent pump failures during production, and inadequate produced water treatment methods.
Each of these challenges provides an opportunity for improvement. We propose a refocus on low-rank coals which have higher permeability. Other opportunities include development of better hydraulic fracturing fluids, non-formation damaging drilling fluids, use of geomechanics to understand borehole instability, optimization of the artificial lift methods and more robust and environmentally friendly produced water treatment methods.