Coal gas, untapped wealth of the Lorraine underground

190 billion cubic meters of gas are slumbering in the coal under the feet of the Moselle people. La Française de l’Energie is awaiting approval to operate a tiny portion of it that would power thousands of Lorraine homes.


Laura Banner

190 billion cubic meters of gas are slumbering in the coal under the feet of the Moselle people. La Française de l’Energie is awaiting approval to operate a tiny part of it that would power thousands of Lorraine homes.

And if the gas locked in the Mosel coal allowed France to do without Russian gas a little more? In any case, this is the idea defended by French Energy (FDE). The Lorraine company wants to extract 1.5 billion cubic meters of mine gas per year. But to get there, an important support is still missing: that of the French state.

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Requested in 2018 as part of a concession application from the FDE, the state has still not returned its response on the matter. However, the project will be completed on the part of the company. “From 2009 to 2018, an entire research phase with five test wells was carried out, which proved the feasibility and economic importance of the project,” explains Pascal Mittelberger, Head of Public Relations at La Française de l’énergie.

What this SME wants to exploit exactly is stratified gas. Unconventionally, it consists mainly of methane and is found trapped in the coal seams of the Moselle underground. “We want to capture this coal gas in the intact or virgin strata that have not been mined. Because at the end of the exploitation of the coal mines on the Moselle, the water flooded the tunnels exploited in miners’ times, we can no longer do anything about it,” explains the gas producer.

Already active in Belgium

And about mines, the FDE knows a lot about it. The company is also only present in former mining areas. In the Nord-Pas-de-Calais, the company catches firedamp directly in the tunnels via its subsidiary Gazonor. “We connect to the existing mine, where the gas released by the coal circulates,” explains Pascal Mittelberger. A solution without drilling that allows for three assessments: gas, electricity and heat.

It can no longer be ruled out that Moscow, in response to sanctions, will completely cut off the gas supply to the West.

Given the risk of reduced energy supply in the coming months, authorities and utilities are developing a range of scenarios.

A process that the Moselle SME has also developed in Belgium in Anderlues on the outskirts of Charleroi, where it has been operating an old mine shaft since 2019. Walloon, to highlight this registration, which contributes to the safety of the mining basin,” argues the manager. Indeed, by accumulating in the basements, the gas under pressure can cause inconveniences on the surface.

Let’s get back to the Moselle, so where the company can’t go through the galleries. It then proposes vertical drilling averaging 1,000 meters deep to extract this layered gas. Once at this distance, drilling will continue in a horizontal direction to deploy the drains. A depression would then be created by sucking in the water to bring the gas to the surface.

The operating perimeter defined by the company covers an area of ​​191 km².

The operating perimeter defined by the company covers an area of ​​191 km².

Map: FDE

“This project is therefore located on the edge of the coal basin in the Faulquemont and Saint-Avold sector, where the coal seams have not yet been exploited,” continues Pascal Mittelberger. In total, an area of ​​191 km², divided into two blocks, has been delineated by the company as part of its concession application. It covers the area of ​​around forty municipalities on the Moselle. Six of them are fully contained while the other 34 are only partially affected by their community ban.

Strong opponents

But in this part of the department, the project is far from unanimous. It even arouses fierce resistance. “During the public survey carried out, around thirty municipalities gave or considered a positive opinion, while around ten expressed a negative opinion or reservations about the project,” explains the PR manager of La Française de l’Energie.

Citizens were also asked to give their opinion. “And there were clearly negative opinions from opponents at the local level, who do not want this project on the territory,” says Pascal Mittelberger, who immediately qualifies, “the number of these opinions corresponded to 1% of the population of the territory”.

Criticisms from opponents of the project relate in particular to the environmental aspect and the pollution of groundwater that could be caused by this type of drilling, but also to the financial viability of the company. All these concerns are brushed aside by the company, which highlights its financial investment in the Moselle (50 million euros for 15 years), the surveillance that surrounds its activities, but also an amalgam.

The FDE project is also wrongly associated with shale gas. Therefore, the danger of mine sinking is also highlighted. “We don’t use the hydraulic fraction, it’s banned in France, so there’s no risk of subsidence on the surface. When sailing at a depth of 1,000 m, the width of the well is 15 cm. It is therefore impossible to create this type of geological disturbance.”

If, since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the issue of energy independence has resurfaced, Pascal Mittelberger regrets that such events were necessary to bring the company’s project back to light. “It’s a dispute we’ve had for years. Of course, this project is not intended to replace imports, but it will contribute to France’s energy independence.

interest across borders

Not to mention that this local and short-circuit solution also makes it possible to reduce the carbon footprint of this fossil energy, which in 2021 still represented 15.8% of the French energy mix. “The gas produced in Lorraine, c “is a gas whose carbon footprint is divided by ten compared to what is imported”, the company points out.

The company could produce a volume of 2.1 billion cubic meters of gas from this Moselle concession as part of a 20-year development plan. “But the Lorraine mining basin extends to Pont-à-Mousson and covers about 190 billion cubic meters, which corresponds to five years of consumption in France,” says Pascal Mittelberger. A beautiful reserve that is interesting on a Greater Region scale. “The company is in talks with Saarland industrialists who are interested in exploiting this resource directly on site.”

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