Coalbed Methane & Fracking

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The first drilling for coalbed methane – aka natural gas – in Alabama occurred in the Black Warrior Basin in the 1970s. Initially, this practice served as a way to degasify coal seams prior to mining them, to attempt reducing the potential for explosions in mines. The gas was simply vented into the atmosphere. In the early 1980s, when it was realized natural gas has tremendous energy potential, drilling for commercial sales really took off. The Black Warrior Basin has the longest development history of any coalbed methane reserve in the United States.

There were 5,537 coalbed methane (CBM) wells operating in the Black Warrior River watershed (as of April 2012).

Tens of thousands of acres in the Black Warrior Basin are leased for drilling wells to access coal seams where the gas is trapped, creating a massive network of roads, well pads, and pipelines. Erosion from these areas is a documented source of sedimentation, choking streams and reservoirs throughout the basin.

The extraction of coalbed methane involves a process known as hydraulic fracturing (aka “fracking”). Hydraulic fracturing forces a pressurized fluid mixture including water, acid, surfactant, gel, chemicals, and sand into the earth around coal seams, ranging anywhere from 350 – 2,500 feet deep. The fluids create underground fissures in targeted coal seams and surrounding rock and shale, and phenolic resin-coated sand holds the fissures open, allowing natural gas to flow toward the surface.

In the Black Warrior Basin, coalbed methane drilling targets the Pennsylvanian Pottsville Formation, which is part of an unconfined aquifer, and the Cretaceous outcrop, which is associated with high groundwater salinity.

Groundwater contamination is a major concern for people living in rural areas near CBM drilling operations. We have received numerous reports from people whose well water has gone bad. If you have experienced a decrease in well water quality, please contact us. (205) 458-0095

Wastewater from the drilling process, called produced water, is commonly stored in open, lined pits. Some of this water is re-used. The state of Alabama allows CBM operators to discharge produced water to both area streams and the river as well as to wastewater treatment plants.

Map of National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permitted CBM wastewater discharges in the Black Warrior basin:

Coalbed methane, or natural gas, is a fossil fuel which has significant full-cycle costs as a form of energy – from drilling using hydraulic fracturing, waste and wastewater disposal, methane leakage, pipeline transport, and consumption at power plants and homes.

To see an Alabama Oil & Gas Board map of CBM operations’ footprint in the Warrior Coal Field, click here.

CBMfieldsMap showing coalbed methane fields in the Black Warrior River watershed. Source: Geological Survey of Alabama’s website:

Village Miller coalbed methaneCoalbed methane well and roads in the foreground. Miller Steam Plant in the background. (Jefferson Co., AL) Photo by Nelson Brooke.

upper_black_warrior_coalbed_methane_closeCoalbed methane wastewater ponds on the Black Warrior River. (Tuscaloosa Co., AL) Photo by Nelson Brooke. Flight provided by

For more information on this subject, click on any of the following links:

Organizations working on natural gas fracking

Frac Focus

EarthWorks – Hydraulic Fracturing 101

EarthWorks – Oil & Gas Accountability Project

Energy Justice Network

Wilderness Society – Hydraulic Fracturing: An Unregulated Danger to Our Nation’s Drinking Water

Natural Resources Defense Council – Don’t Get Fracked!: Steps to Keep You and Your Family Safe from Drilling

ProPublica – Fracking: Gas Drilling’s Environmental Threat

ProPublica – From Gung-Ho to Uh-Oh: Charting the Government’s Moves on Fracking

Halliburton Watch – Energy Bill

Fracking Resource Guide

Union of Concerned Scientists – EPA Findings on Hydraulic Fracturing Deemed “Unsupportable”


Alabama Oil & Gas Board

Alabama Oil & Gas Board – Oil & Gas Information

Geological Survey of Alabama – Coal Systems

Geological Survey of Alabama – Coalbed Methane Research

EPA – Coalbed Methane Extraction (CBM)

EPA – Coalbed Methane Outreach Program (CMOP)

EPA – Hydraulic Fracturing Research Study

EPA – U.S. Methane Emissions 1990 – 2020: Inventories, Projections, and Opportunities for Reductions

U.S. Geological Survey – Assessment of Undiscovered Carboniferous Coal-Bed Gas Resources of the Appalachian Basin and Black Warrior Basin Provinces, 2002

U.S. Geological Survey – High Salt Concentrations in Water Resulting from Coal-bed Natural Gas Production Harmful to Aquatic Life

National Energy Technology Laboratory – Natural Gas Resources

National Energy Technology Laboratory – Produced Water Management Information System

National Energy Technology Laboratory – Water Management Strategies for Improved Coalbed Methane Production in the Black Warrior Basin

Southeast Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership (SECARB) – Black Warrior Basin Coal Seam Project


Coalbed Methane Association of Alabama

Walter Energy – Natural Gas

Black Warrior Methane

Kinder Morgan (acquired El Paso Production Company on 5/24/12) – Southern Natural Gas

Halliburton Energy Services – 6/9/10/ Comments to EPA on Hydraulic Fracturing


N.Y. Assembly Approves Fracking Moratorium

Hydraulic fracturing scheduled by Energen in Alabama attracts both profit potential and green-group ire

Insiders Sound an Alarm Amid a Natural Gas Rush

A Pot of Gold – or a Fracking Disaster Waiting to Happen?

Could Shale Gas Power the World?

Major fracking spill happening now in Pennsylvania

As Focus On Fracking Sharpens, Fuel Worries Grow

The Real Story About the Risks of Fracking

There is a middle ground in gas well fracturing controversy

EPA sounds alarm on fracking in Wyoming

EPA: Fracking chemicals likely tainted Wyoming drinking water

The Fracking Industry’s War On The New York Times – And The Truth

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