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Title: Water Management Strategies for Improved Coalbed Methane Production in the Black Warrior Basin

The modern coalbed methane industry was born in the Black Warrior Basin of Alabama and has to date produced more than 2.6 trillion cubic feet of gas and 1.6 billion barrels of water. The coalbed gas industry in this area is dependent on instream disposal of co-produced water, which ranges from nearly potable sodium-bicarbonate water to hypersaline sodium-chloride water. This study employed diverse analytical methods to characterize water chemistry in light of the regional geologic framework and to evaluate the full range of water management options for the Black Warrior coalbed methane industry. Results reveal strong interrelationships among regional geology, water chemistry, and gas chemistry. Coalbed methane is produced from multiple coal seams in Pennsylvanian-age strata of the Pottsville Coal Interval, in which water chemistry is influenced by a structurally controlled meteoric recharge area along the southeastern margin of the basin. The most important constituents of concern in the produced water include chlorides, ammonia compounds, and organic substances. Regional mapping and statistical analysis indicate that the concentrations of most ionic compounds, metallic substances, and nonmetallic substances correlate with total dissolved solids and chlorides. Gas is effectively produced at pipeline quality, and the only significant impurity is N{sub 2}. Geochemical analysismore » indicates that the gas is of mixed thermogenic-biogenic origin. Stable isotopic analysis of produced gas and calcite vein fills indicates that widespread late-stage microbial methanogenesis occurred primarily along a CO{sub 2} reduction metabolic pathway. Organic compounds in the produced water appear to have helped sustain microbial communities. Ammonia and ammonium levels increase with total dissolved solids content and appear to have played a role in late-stage microbial methanogenesis and the generation of N{sub 2}. Gas production tends to decline exponentially, whereas water production tends to decline hyperbolically. Hyperbolic decline indicates that water volume is of greatest concern early in the life of a coalbed methane project. Regional mapping indicates that gas production is controlled primarily by the ability to depressurize permeable coal seams that are natively within the steep part of the adsorption isotherm. Water production is greatest within the freshwater intrusion and below thick Cretaceous cover strata and is least in areas of underpressure. Water management strategies include instream disposal, which can be applied effectively in most parts of the basin. Deep disposal may be applicable locally, particularly where high salinity limits the ability to dispose into streams. Artificial wetlands show promise for the management of saline water, especially where the reservoir yield is limited. Beneficial use options include municipal water supply, agricultural use, and industrial use. The water may be of use to an inland shrimp farming industry, which is active around the southwestern coalbed methane fields. The best opportunities for beneficial use are reuse of water by the coalbed methane industry for drilling and hydraulic fracturing. This research has further highlighted opportunities for additional research on treatment efficiency, the origin of nitrogen compounds, organic geochemistry, biogenic gas generation, flow modeling, and computer simulation. Results of this study are being disseminated through a vigorous technology transfer program that includes web resources, numerous presentations to stakeholders, and a variety of technical publications.« less
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Publication Date:
OSTI Identifier:
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Resource Type:
Technical Report
Research Org:
Geological Survey Of Alabama
Sponsoring Org:
Country of Publication:
United States