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Coal bed methane plays key role in Utah natural gas supply, reserve

By Sun Advocate

During the last 10 years, natural gas recovered from deep coal beds at locations across Castle Valley has become a significant part of Utah’s supply and reserves.
The United States Energy Information Administration reports that coal bed gas made up approximately 35 percent of Utah’s 4.5 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of proven natural gas reserves in 2000, points out the latest publication released by the Utah Geological Survey.
Once regarded primarily as a safety hazard in underground mining operations, coal bed methane has transformed into a major source of natural gas not only for Utah, but at locations throughout the U.S.
The improved understanding of coal bed gas was fostered by government funded research and tax credits during the 1970s and 1980s, continues the geological survey.
The government incentives helped petroleum companies develop techniques to recover the unconventional natural gas resource.
Exploration for coal bed gas started in the early 1980s.
However, the first significant production of coal bed methane began in 1992.
The earliest exploration effort tested the natural gas resources of coals in parts of two locations near Price – the Blackhawk and the Ferron Sandstone formations, explains the state geological survey office.
The Ferron Sandstone has become the major coal bed gas producing area in Utah.
At the end of last year, Anadarko, Marathon, Phillips and Texaco operated more than 490 wells producing coal bed gas from the Ferron strata, indicates the latest information released by the Utah Geological Survey.
The Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining reports that the wells on the Ferron formation accounted for more than 28 percent of Utah’s natural gas production in 2001.
Last year’s Ferron methane production represents nearly a 2.5 percent increase when compared to 2000 levels.
In 2000, the Ferron formation accounted for 25.6 percent of all natural gas produced statewide.
Petroleum company development plans discussed in two recently released environmental impact statements indicate that the Ferron trend could have 800 to 900 gas wells in production within the next five years, points out the geologic survey.
The development projects will probably double the amount of gas currently produced.
Originally the coal bed methane wells were projected to have a productive life of 20 years and average recoverable gas reserves of one to four Bcf, pointed out the latest data compiled by the state geological survey agency.
Improved understanding of the nature of the gas reservoirs, gained from testing during the early life of the first wells, indicates that the original productivity estimates are likely conservative.
Within the Ferron Sandstone formation, the Drunkards Wash coal bed methane field is currently the third largest natural gas producer in Utah, continued the Utah Geological Survey.
Drunkards Wash will likely be the most productive gas field in the state when the site becomes fully developed by about 2005, predicts the state agency.
While the Ferron trend has been the key factor in maintaining Utah’s statewide gas productivity levels in recent years, several additional coal fields in the the Castle Valley are attracting petroleum company exploration efforts.
The Blackhawk formation has an exploration history as long as the Ferron Sandstone, but problematic water disposal and well completion issues have stalled production from the Book Cliffs coal fields, explained the state agency.
Starting in 2000, a joint venture conducted by J.M. Huber and Patina Oil and Gas Corporation started revitalizing the dormant Castle Gate project, explained the geological survey department.
After producing nstural gas from 1994 through 1997, the Castle Gate wells were plugged and abandoned by Anadarko Petroleum Company at the start of 1998.
Huber and Patina are redrilling the 25 original well and list the reserves for the Castle Gate project at 27.5 Bcf of gas, according to the state agency.
In 2000, the production for the field was 0.14 Bcf from six wells. Production will probably be double the 2000 as more wells are brought into operation.
The 62,000-acre Blackhawk formation could contain 500 Bcf of recoverable reserves or enough gas to supply 500,000 residents’ needs for approximately 10 years, concludes the state geological survey office.

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