Skip Navigation LinksDCNR > Geology > Geologic Economic Resources > Methane from Coal

Methane from Coal

The natural gas methane is a byproduct of the process where plant materials were gradually buried, compressed and heated, resulting in the various ranks of coal.

In Pennsylvania, natural gas is extracted from coal as coalbed methane and as coal mine methane. Coalbed methane comes from virgin (unmined) coal. It rivals conventional natural gas in methane content and heating value with minimal processing.

Coal mine methane is released from rocks associated with active or abandoned coal mines and is more variable in quality.

Capturing Methane from Coal in Pennsylvania

Capture of methane from coal grew out of the necessity to vent the gas from underground coal mines for safety purposes. Large volumes of methane may also be emitted from vents, fissures, or boreholes associated with abandoned mines.

Today, coal is recognized as a significant source of gas at both domestic and international levels. In 2004, the Pennsylvania General Assembly listed coal mine methane as an alternative energy resource in the Pennsylvania Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act.

Some of the major end uses for methane from coal are:

  • Supplement to natural gas pipelines
  • Gas turbine/microturbine fuel for electric power generation/cogeneration
  • Heating applications
  • Local/onsite industrial use
  • Vehicle fuel as liquefied/compressed natural gas
  • Manufacturing/chemical feedstock
  • Fuel cells

Industry uses methane from coal in southwestern Pennsylvania as a commercial energy source. The depth of producing units typically ranges from approximately 300 to 1800 feet, and the source may include coal beds that are too thin or deep to be economically mined.

Beneficial side effects of using this energy source include improved mine safety and a substantial reduction in methane emissions to the atmosphere.

Despite the hurdle of ownership based on severed mineral rights, interest in developing this unconventional natural gas resource continues in Pennsylvania because of:

  • Established/negotiated ownership of acreage
  • Improved technology
  • Better understanding of coal as a natural gas reservoir
  • The need to develop domestic energy sources while practicing environmental stewardship for future generations