Flemish Government Delivers Field Concession for Coal Gas Exploration
Joke Schauvliege (CD&V), Flemish minister for the environment, has signed a permit for Limburg Gas, to explore for coalbed methane gas in the former concession area of its mother company Mijnen. This permit includes a six year exclusive exploration right. However, it does not include a permission to execute test drills. For eventual test drills Limburg Gas would have to apply for an additional permit. This is also the case if it would want to start exploitation.
Limburg Gas was founded in 2011. It is a joint venture between the Australian company Dart Energy (80%) and the Belgian Mijnen, the legal successor of the former coal mining societies in Limburg, a province in the Flemish region in the federal state of Belgium. The 363 km² concession area includes the underground of the cities of Hasselt and Genk and twelve smaller villages. The first two years Limburg Gas will be merely studying existing reports and data.
After that it will start looking for a suitable location to test drill and apply for a permit to vertical core drill in order to measure the volume of coal gas. If the coal gas volume looks worth pursuing, Limburg Gas could build a pilot installation. To pursue these explorative activities, LRM has reserved a 3.6 million euro budget. LRM is the mother company of Mijnen. Its main activity is the economic reconversion of Limburg, following the shut-down of the coal mines in the late eighties.
Different from shale gas and geothermic layers, coal layers already are well documented. Before (since about 1875) and during the exploitation of the coal layers a lot of theoretical at practical knowledge has been gathered about this layers. Engineers and other experts, educated or working during the mining period, still are professionally active today, in the energy sector and elsewhere. As for more, the actual concession only involves the depth from 500 till 1.500 m. Shale gas –if they are present– and geothermic layers are situated much deeper.
"What's irritating me most of all is that Flanders, worldwide one of the most densely populated areas, has delivered a permit without even a previous political debate," says Geert De Cock, policy officer at Food & Water Europe. "Many other EU-countries have been ordering studies to be sure there was an existing legal framework and infrastructure before starting exploration. Today, the European Commission is designing a risk management framework. Flanders should have waited at least until this was ready." De Cock calculated that, to exploit the 7.7 billion m³ gas LRM is forecasting, about 1.000 drill wells are needed. "And what to think about the compressor stations, pipelines, storage tanks… For every well, millions of litres of waste water have to be purified. In the US, this water can be injected in older wells. In Europe however, this option is not available, as there are no such wells. And you can question the quality of the wells. However industry is juggling with all kind of new techniques, such as triple steel casing and improved cement, wells continue to leak. Dart Energy already works in Scotland. The Scottish environment agency already is investigating whether the coal gas wells are leaking."