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Coalbed Methane Gets Some Respect in Latest Canadian Resource Estimates

Barely three years after a handful of producers began booking small reserves additions, the infant Canadian coalbed methane sector has earned respect in a new report on the national gas endowment by industry elders. The Canadian Gas Potential Committee, a powerhouse composed of veterans from agencies such as the Geological Survey of Canada and the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board, recognized 26 Tcf of CBM as "marketable," up from zero in the group's last report in 2001.

The 26 Tcf is described as the most likely amount available for production with current technology. But the committee said the total could be as high as 45 Tcf. "That's a new number. A lot of drilling has taken place to tap coalbed methane," said Vic Mroszczak, coordinator of the new report. "Now we have methods of producing it. That's why in this assessment we have a whole volume dedicated to unconventional gas."

The new document, a thorough technical review that costs C$15,000 (US$13,500) for the full four-volume anatomy of Canadian gas supplies, also estimates the practical endowment of CBM at 528 Tcf or about one-third of all the methane theoretically present in all the nation's coal seams. The new estimate is at the high end of the projections made in 2001, when the committee said there was too little information on producing the resource even to make educated guesses about its true potential.

Despite the progress made on CBM, however, the new report still excludes estimates on gas produced from shales and hydrates. "There are no numbers [on shale gas]," said Mroszczak. "Nobody has proven that you can produce gas from our shale deposits yet in Canada. We do have a section in the report that covers it. But nobody has done the equivalent of the Barnett Shale here in Canada yet.

"It's the same with hydrates. Until somebody has actually produced some gas from hydrates and shown that they can flow for a continuous period of time, we just don't evaluate it and put numbers to it. But the next report may contain that."

The report estimates Canada's remaining marketable conventional gas endowment at 227 Tcf, unchanged from the committee's 2001 verdict. Estimates of the original amount of conventional natural gas resources in Canada have increased by 60 Tcf, to 652 Tcf up from a prior (2001) estimate of 592 Tcf.

Frontier supplies, in arctic and offshore regions, are estimated at 88 Tcf, largely unchanged. The committee estimates there was about 31 Tcf of nominal initial marketable (NIM) gas -- gas expected to be produced -- in the frontier area in the Beaufort Basin, which would flow into the Mackenzie Gas Pipeline. It sees about 7 Tcf of NIM gas along the Mackenzie Gas Pipeline route and about 3 Tcf of remaining marketable gas offshore Nova Scotia.

"Frontier basins -- primarily offshore Nova Scotia, the Mackenzie Delta and the Mackenzie Corridor -- will provide incremental supplies of gas, while remote areas face severe economic and environmental hurdles before production can contribute to Canadian supply," the committee said in a statement. "An estimate for total original gas in place from frontier basins is 188 Tcf and for nominal marketable gas is 88 Tcf. The discovered resource has been reported as 63 Tcf of original gas, or 33% of the total, with 125 Tcf remaining undiscovered."

Alberta dominates the new CBM field as much as it has in the conventional industry. About three-quarters of the nation's CBM is believed to be in coal deposits that carpet much of the chief gas-producing province.

As of 2005, an Alberta government advisory committee on coalbed methane estimates there was production from 3,744 CBM wells at a combined rate averaging about 200 MMcf/d, up from zero only three or four years earlier. And the new production is poised to jump even further this year. The Alberta Energy and Utilities Board estimated that more than 6,000 CBM wells were drilled in the province in 2005. Industry associations project at least as many CBM wells this year.

Data on CBM remains murky, however. Virtually all the CBM activity is in Alberta, but a large amount of activity is by private rather than public companies, especially in new geological or technical frontiers, and cloaked in confidentiality allowed by provincial regulation in fields where there is an exploration element of competition for mineral rights.

For information about the "Natural Gas Potential in Canada - 2005" report, call (403) 263-7722, e-mail bpeterson@centreforenergy.com or go to www.centreforenergy.com. The Canadian Gas Potential Committee is a volunteer group composed of industry and government geoscientists.

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