The demand for indigenous supplies of natural gas in the UK and other countries in Europe has driven operations in the unconventional gas arena since the 1990s. In Coal Bed Methane (CBM) there have been attempts in the UK, Belgium, Germany, France and Poland.

Dart Energy and its heritage company, Composite Energy, have been active in CBM in the UK since 2004, drilling 25 CBM wells in the UK, including 10 appraisal and development wells on the Airth field in central Scotland. A further 4 appraisal wells were drilled by the previous operator of the Airth field in the 1990s.

The local Carboniferous coal geology, as with most European coals of Carboniferous age, is characterised by thin, numerous, low permeability, undulating coal seams. A number of different well designs were tried over the 14 Airth wells to meet the challenges of the local geology: initially vertical fracture stimulated wells; moving to geosteered multi-lateral horizontal wells, either intersecting a vertical well at the end of the horizontal section or as ‘updip’ branches off a motherbore without an intersection and finally multilateral geosteered horizontal wells intersecting a vertical well at the start of the horizontal section.

The evolution in well design incorporated learnings from drilling operations, reservoir geology and production operations for each type of well architecture and advances in drilling technology in other CBM provinces around the world, adapting them to answer the particular subsurface problems encountered in the Airth field. Eventually, through this evolutionary learning process, Dart Energy was able to announce a commercial flowrate of 0.7MMscf/d from Airth 12 in January 2013, a multi-lateral horizontal well with a vertical well intersection at the start of the horizontal section.

This paper describes the journey to that success, charting the evolution of CBM production well design on the Airth field, recognising the geological factors that drive well design, an evolution that can be applied to Carboniferous coal systems with thin, numerous and structurally complex coal seams found in other parts of the UK and Northern Europe.

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