Coal mines in the Appalachian Basin emit approximately 180 million cubic feet (MMcf) of high-quality methane into the atmosphere daily. The existence of mines in West Virginia, southwest Virginia, eastern Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Alabama with high gas emissions of over 100 thousand cubic feet per day (Mcf/d) suggests that further investigation into the economic development of this unconventional energy source is warranted. Appalachian coals occur as multiple beds, individually up to 14 feet thick (Pittsburgh coalbed in Pennsylvania and West Virginia). The gas content of these bituminous coal seams has been measured at 93 cubic feet per ton (cu ft/t) from a depth of 149 feet (Waynesburg coalbed, Pennsylvania) to over 560 cu ft/t at 1,764 feet (Pocahontas No. 3 coalbed in West Virginia); in the anthracite region, 690 cu ft/t have been measured where the overburden is 685 feet thick (Peach Mountain coalbed).

Detailed studies in the southern Warrior Basin indicate the presence of up to 20 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of gas, and preliminary work in the Central and Northern Appalachian Basins suggests a resource of 50 and 80 Tcf, respectively. Many coal operators are realizing the production potential of coalbed methane. In Buchanan County, Virginia, the Island Creek Coal Company produced up to 434 Mcf/d from 12 horizontal boreholes drilled into the mine face. Waynesburg College in Pennsylvania will realize a savings of $25,000 toward their annual energy bill from a 1,450-foot vertical well drilled on campus. In Alabama, U.S. Steel's mines just began commercial production, and sold 25 Mmcf to a gas pipeline company in December 1981; and Jim Walters Resources has begun an ambitious program to drill up to 700 wells with a predicted total production of 60 billion cubic feet (Bcf).

These examples of the successful exploitation of a resource formerly considered only a hazard to coal mining indicate a promising future for coalbed methane.

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