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Can UK coal resources contribute to a gas renaissance?

By Neil Jones, Sam Holloway, David Creedy and K. Garner


The predicted shortage of indigenous UK natural gas coincides with the continuing decline of the UK deep coal mining industry. Significant capacity has been lost through mine closures over the last few years as a result of competition from cheaper sources of coal from overseas and changes to the UK energy market. It is unlikely that any new large underground mines will be developed in the UK in the short or medium term. There are, however, still vast untouched coal resources in the UK that represent a significant energy resource. Increased awareness of the potential for clean energy from coal seams, advances in technology and recognition of the environmental benefits has seen a revival of interest in the potential to release some of the energy value of UK coal via alternative, non-mining technologies such as coalbed methane production and underground coal gasification. If successful, these could supplement declining conventional UK natural gas production. The utilization of clean energy from coal seams is supported by the UK Government through its Cleaner Fossil Fuels Programme. \ud \ud There is some activity in this field already. Methane is being drained from most of the remaining deep mines and utilized as fuel for electricity generation or on-site boilers. Drained gas that is not utilized is conventionally vented, but at one mine this gas is now flared to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Methane is also being produced from abandoned mines, but the present low electricity and gas prices have adversely affected its economics. For the longer-term future, there is potential for virgin coalbed methane production and underground coal gasification. The UK has coalbed methane resources estimated to be in the order of 2.9 × 1012 m3 CH4. However, the limited exploratory drilling for coalbed methane in unmined areas undertaken to date has not led to commercial production – the major barriers are perceived to be low seam permeability, drilling and completion costs, together with planning and access issues. Initial research suggests there is very large potential for underground coal gasification providing the environmental and perceived safety issues surrounding the application of this technology can be overcome. \ud \u

Publisher: Geological Society of London
Year: 2005
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