Biogenic methane in shale gas and coal bed methane : a review of current knowledge and gaps

Colosimo, Fabrizio and Thomas, Russell and Lloyd, Jonathan R. and Taylor, Kevin G. and Boothman, Christopher and Smith, Anthony D. and Lord, Richard and Kalin, Robert (2016) Biogenic methane in shale gas and coal bed methane : a review of current knowledge and gaps. International Journal of Coal Geology. ISSN 1872-7840 (

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Biogenic CH4 generation has been observed in many shallow, low temperature shale gas basins and coal seams. The depletion of conventional resources and the increasing demand of natural gas for human consumption have spurred the development of so-called unconventional gas resources such as shale gas (SG) and coal-bed methane (CBM). Such unconventional systems represent the opportunity for the stimulation of biogenic CH4 generation. Biogenic CH4 in shale and coal is produced by anaerobic biodegradation of organic matter (OM): methanogenic Archaea represent only the final step of biogenic CH4 generation. Several communities of microorganisms are involved in the initial breakdown of complex geopolymers and the production of intermediate compounds used by methanogens. There are several key knowledge gaps on biogenic CH4 production in unconventional gas systems, such as the exact fraction of bioavailable OM, the microbial communities involved and how they can be stimulated to enhance microbial methanogenesis. Progress on biodegradation studies, isotopic signatures, as well as DNA analyses and proteomics could help unravel interactions within the syntrophic community involved in the methanogenic biodegradation of OM. Questions also remain regarding the environmental impact of unconventional gas production, such as water quality and the mobility of toxic metals and radionuclides. The answers to these questions might have implications for both recovery practices and a sustainable development of unconventional resources. This review summarises the current knowledge regarding biogenic CH4 in SG and CBM: from the nature of the rocks to the producing microbial community and the indicators of biogenic CH4, illustrating how these two environments show remarkably similar opportunities for the stimulation of biogenic CH4 generation.