Canadian Consulting Engineer

Alberta set to develop massive reserves of coalbed methane

Alberta has decided it will continue to allow developers to extract coalbed methane, a massive resource that is est...

May 17, 2006   Canadian Consulting Engineer

Alberta has decided it will continue to allow developers to extract coalbed methane, a massive resource that is estimated could be up to 500 Trillion cubic feet. According to a government website, even if 15 per cent of that quantity was extracted, it would be twice the amount of Alberta’s remaining natural gas reserves.
A stakeholder advisory group prepared 44 recommendations on how the resource should be managed. The government is proceeding on 32 of the recommendations, many of which focus on protecting aquifers and water supplies. Critics are concerned that nearby wells and groundwater are contaminated by the drilling.
The government, however, insists that it is being careful to proceed in an environmentally sound manner.
Alberta is one of Canada’s driest provinces and has to be careful about preserving its water. A paper was published on April 10, 2006 in the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America that warned that the region is facing an impending water crisis. Written by D.W. Shindler of the University of Alberta and W.F. Donahue of the Freshwater Research Ltd., the paper notes that: “Fortuitously, the period since European settlement appears to have been the wettest century of the past two millennia. The frequent, long periods of drought that characterized earlier centuries of the past two millennia were largely absent in the 20th century.” The authors went on to warn that the combination of rapidly accelerating human activity combined with cyclic drought could soon have far reaching implications for water quantity and quality.
The coalbed methane is currently being developed in south-central and southern Alberta, with approximately 90% of that in the Horseshoe Canyon coal formation. The advantage of those seams is that they require little or no water to produce the gas.
Coalbed methane is “sweet,” not “sour,” as it does not contain hydrogen sulphide. In 2005 there were 3,744 wells producing 2.1 billion cubic metres.
See www.pnas.org, www.gov.ab.ca


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