Coalbed methane (CBM), the natural gas from coal, is an energy source that rivals conventional natural gas in composition and heating value. CBM has gained recognition as a significant source of gas reserves at both domestic and international levels. Historically a mining hazard, CBM is now extracted in southwestern Pennsylvania to improve mine safety and for use as an energy source. It is also produced from abandoned mines and from coal beds that are too thin or deep to be economically mined. Production typically occurs in Pennsylvania’s coal-bearing rocks at depths ranging from approximately 300 to 1800 feet (see More Information).
Despite the hurdle of ownership of the gas based on severed mineral rights, interest in developing this resource continues in Pennsylvania. Currently, the 1983 state Supreme Court decision in a case titled U.S. Steel Corporation v. Hoge states that if methane gas is found in coal seams, the gas rights belong to the coal owner of a property, not the gas owner or surface landowner. The CBM boom, which started in 1999, coincided with a nationwide increase in natural gas exploration and development. In response to landowner concerns in the wake of increased CBM drilling, new legislation was passed in early 2010 establishing a special review board to arbitrate CBM well location disputes between landowners and gas companies. See News Highlights for further information.