Robert C. Milici
The Carboniferous Coal-bed Gas Total Petroleum System, lies within the central and northern parts of the Appalachian coal field. It consists of five assessment units (AU): the Pocahontas Basin in southwestern Virginia, southern West Virginia, and eastern Kentucky, the Central Appalachian Shelf in Tennessee, eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia, East Dunkard (Folded) in western Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia, West Dunkard (Unfolded) in Ohio and adjacent parts of Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and the Appalachian Anthracite and Semi-Anthracite AU in Pennsylvania and Virginia. Of these, only the Pocahontas Basin and West Dunkard (Folded) AU were assessed quantitatively by the U.S. Geological survey in 2002 as containing about 3.6 and 4.8 Tcf of undiscovered, technically recoverable gas, respectively (Milici and others, 2003).
In general, the coal beds of this Total Petroleum System, which are both the source rock and reservoir, were deposited together with their associated sedimentary strata in Mississippian and Pennsylvanian (Carboniferous) time. The generation of biogenic (microbial) gas probably began almost immediately as the peat deposits were first formed. Microbial gas generation is probably occurring at present to some degree throughout the basin, where the coal beds are relatively shallow and wet. With sufficient depth of burial, compaction, and coalification during the late Paleozoic and Early Mesozoic, the coal beds were heated sufficiently to generate thermogenic gas in the eastern part of the Appalachian basin.
Trap formation began initially with the deposition of the paleopeat deposits during the Mississippian, and continued into the Late Pennsylvanian and Permian as the Appalachian Plateau strata were deformed during the Alleghanian orogeny. Seals are the connate waters that occupy fractures and larger pore spaces within the coal beds as well as the fine-grained siliciclastic sedimentary strata that are intercalated with the coal. The critical moment for the petroleum system occurred during this orogeny, when deformation created geologic structures in the eastern part of the basin that enhanced fracture porosity within the coal beds. In places, burial by thrust sheets (thrust loading) within the Appalachian fold-and-thrust belt may have resulted in additional generation of thermogenic CBM in the anthracite district of Pennsylvania and in the semianthracite deposits of Virginia and West Virginia.
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