Consol, Va. Tech partnering on use for unminable coal seams - Clarksburg, Morgantown: News, Sports, Weather

Consol, Va. Tech partnering on use for unminable coal seams

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One of the biggest problems facing coal mine operators, particularly in Appalachia, is that some of the coal they might own isn't minable.

As the industry often says, the "easy coal" has largely been had first. Now, thinner seams and seams that produce more "reject coal" means mining in the region is becoming increasingly difficult.

A new research project announced Monday seeks to utilize some of those less-than-ideal seams for storing carbon dioxide. Coal-burning power plants are one of the largest sources of man-made carbon dioxide emissions and the capture and storage of the CO2 is believed to be one of the only ways coal can continue to be a dominant force in the energy sector under increasing pressure to restrict greenhouse gas emissions.

"We are pleased to be a part of this important research, which will serve to further define carbon storage alternatives and continue our collaborative efforts to develop clean coal technologies," said Steve Winberg, vice president of CONSOL Energy's research and development department.

Consol is donating the use of three coalbed methane wells to conduct the pilot project in cooperation with the Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research at Virginia Tech. Funding for the project has been provided by the National Energy Technology Laboratory.

The sites are near Buchanan, Va. Consol and Virginia Tech representatives met with the Buchanan County Board of Supervisors Monday to explain the project. The project is take place over a year and begin this fall.

"The research will test the ability to inject CO2 into coal seams that cannot be mined, as well as the potential to enhance coalbed methane recovery," said Dr. Michael Karmis, director of the Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research and the Stonie Barker Professor of Mining and Minerals Engineering at Virginia Tech. "I must praise the tremendous cooperation of the gas operator, CONSOL Energy's CNX Gas; and the mineral owner, Harrison-Wyatt, LLC, whose generosity helps make this most important research possible."

The plan is to inject up to 20,000 tons of carbon dioxide into underlying coal seams. Researchers expect the carbon dioxide to be absorbed and even possibly stimulate the release of methane gas.

"The results of this test will be vital to assess the potential of geologic storage in Appalachian coal seams as a safe and permanent method to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions while enhancing coalbed methane recovery," Karmis explained.

According to the company's news release, the targeted coal seams are in the Pocahontas and Lee formations and range from 900 to 2,200 feet in depth and from 0.7 feet to 2.5 feet in thickness.