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SA slow in tapping coal bed methane potential

Reuters | Fri, 05 Jun 2009 16:40

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[] -- South Africa needs to invest in gas infrastructure and exploration and involve the country's coal mining majors to develop a coal bed methane (CBM) industry, a coal consultant said on Friday.

Oliver Barker, an independent consultant at Banzi Geotechnics, told a coal conference that CBM could be a quick way to ease the power shortages which led to shutdowns at mines and smelters early last year.

"It can be brought on stream very quickly, it's immediate, there's no beneficiation, the moment you bring it to the surface you can use it," he said.

South Africa is one of the world's largest coal producers and methane gas could be exploited as part of the coal mining process, but hardly any of the mining companies have tapped its potential.

Barker said some of the mining giants who have the capital fear the impact that the exploration of CBM could have on the quality of their coal.

The other problem was the lack of data, Barker said, adding that estimates for potential in the country range between 15 and 40 trillion cubic feet (tcf).

Making CBM part of the government's energy plan and establishing a model for state-owned utility Eskom to use gas to power its plants would be one way of moving the industry forward, he said.

"The government needs to realise CBM's potential for power production and for reducing our carbon footprint ... we need to develop the infrastructure and develop a financial model to help people assess the potential of it," he said.

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