CSG is an interesting gas when compared to ‘conventional’ gases. ‘Conventional’ gas has migrated away from coal and organic rich sedimentary rocks into other porous rocks. The gas is then held in place by impermeable layers. What makes CSG different is that the gas has only migrated very small distances (if at all) to natural pore spaces such as fractures (cleats) in the coal layers. These pore spaces usually contain natural water that was left in the coal when it was laid down or water that subsequently migrated into the coal seam. The water associated with the coal seam is very important because it is actually the pressure of the water in the coal seam that keeps the gas in place. It is the hydrostatic pressure that keeps the gas in place.
In open cut or underground coal mining, CSG is a curse. It is considered a waste product and an explosion hazard. It is therefore vented as much as possible to make the coal mines safe to work in. The recent Pike River Mine explosion in New Zealand is an example where the failure to vent enough CSG caused a tragedy. As water is removed from coal mines the chances for gas mobilisation increases due to the above mentioned effect of hydrostatic pressure. This further increases the risk of explosion in coal mines.
|Idealised relationship between CSG and water production|
Many people are concerned about CSG in Australia, particularly in our northern rivers region. This concern is driven by the possible effect of CSG extraction on beneficial groundwater. The use of techniques such as hydraulic fracturing that may be used to increase or prolong gas production is also raised as a concern. To keep this post short I will cover both of these issues in future. However, I will suffice to say that there is evidence that groundwater can be affected during CSG extraction despite producers trying not to have any impact. These are particularly noted in certain geological formations. There are also situations where there is no impact on important aquifers too. This matter is clearly quite complex and a one size fits all understanding does not apply very well. Hopefully, my future posts will tease the details out a little bit more.