The current energy crisis and tensions with Russia, which are weakening Russian gas supplies, point to possible alternatives for the European Union. In addition to the increase in production of the last existing European fossil gas production sites (in Denmark, the Netherlands), another hidden reserve arouses interest, in addition to the promotion of the biogas sector: the gas trapped in old deposits, coal, which consists mainly of methane and is already present in Belgium and Hauts -de-France is promoted. With two different technologies, one globally green and not very controversial (firedamp), the other that raises many more questions (gas “the layer”).
Given the tensions in the natural gas market and the threat of a disruption in the supply of Russian gas the European Union is considering all possible solutions. The most obvious ones seem to be the reduction of natural gas consumption (by saving energy, improving energy efficiency or replacing the use of gas with renewable energy) and the diversification of imports, especially about LNG.
Increase production of the last fossil gas deposits in the European Union?
But the European Union also wants to increase its own gas production. This could be done by increasing the production of the last depleted fossil gas deposits. The European Commission is campaigning for such an increase for the Groningen gas field in the Netherlands, which will produce just 4.5 billion cubic meters this year (up from 50 billion ten years ago). But the Dutch government, which wants to close it in 2028, rejects this increase.
Denmark, on the other hand, has pledged to temporarily increase exploitation of its gas fields in the North Sea: “We will increase natural gas production in the North Sea for a limited period of time. We are convinced that it is better to produce gas in the North Sea than to buy it from Vladimir Putin,” Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said on April 19, 2022 during a press conference.
Focus on biogas
Another track: invest more in the biogas sectormature, renewable and requires only local and modest investment – even for production, local and at the scale of the areas in which it is established.
But the possibilities of accelerating an already dynamic sector cannot be expanded, especially because the equipment (methanizers and connections to the gas network) and the professionals who can install them cannot be multiplied in the blink of an eye.
Valuation of gas from coal deposits
Last track, which can also only serve as a supplement, but whose potential is certain: to tap the gas locked in closed coal deposits. This idea is particularly trendy in the mining areas of Hauts-de-France, Grand Est and Belgium, with an industrialist at the forefront of this act, the Française de l’Energie (FDE).
A distinction must be made here between two technologies. The first is to capture firedamp, gas that has remained trapped in the now sealed mines. It is 90% methane and in any case must be gradually vented to the atmosphere, contributing to pollution without being recovered.
Catching firedamp in the closed mines of Hauts-de-France or Belgium
Hence the idea developed by the Gazonor company, a former subsidiary of Charbonnages de France which came under the control of the FDE, to capture and enhance this firedamp. Five wells are currently in operation and allow the production of 76 million m³ per year, of which 36 million are fed into the gas network and 40 million are converted into heat and electricity through cogeneration. For comparison: the total European gas consumption is around 400 billion m³ per year.
The Gazonor heating network supplies 6,500 households in Béthune, each of which saves around 35% on heating costs compared to a gas boiler, and provides an electricity production equivalent to that of ten wind turbines.
Gazonor wants to speed up firedamp reclamation, but comes up against a reform of the mining law
The company, which also uses firedamp from a former mine shaft in Anderlues, on the outskirts of Charleroi in Belgium, wants to expand this system to eventually recover the methane from all the old shafts in Hauts-de-France that are compatible with this technology. Thus, in March 2022, Gazonor submitted to the administration two permit applications for the dismantling of mining facilities (DAOTM) for six sites, ie investments of 30 million euros.
But for now, it’s coming up against a recent reform of the Mining Act of August 25, 2021, which stipulates that if an operator wishes to use monitoring or risk prevention equipment that is transferred to the state, “The plaintiff then takes over all the tasks assigned to the state […] over the entire area under consideration.
In other words, if Gazonor wants to recover firedamp from a mine, the company must assume all risks associated with that mine, mine gas emissions, landslides or tailings burning. Much to the annoyance of its President Julien Moulin: “This intolerable and pointless state-imposed delegation of responsibility […] is seen as an unprecedented impediment to the development of regenerative power by a concessionaire in the context of a climate emergency.” To be continued.
Collect the gas “the layer” in virgin coal deposits
The second technology is called gas recovery “the shift” in coal seams that have not been excavated. It applies to areas such as the Moselle (Grand-Est) where the mines were sunk at the end of their exploitation.
In order to develop this unconventional gas in the Moselle, the FDE wants to drill vertical boreholes at an average depth of 1,000 meters, which at this depth take a horizontal direction in order to install drainage. A depression would then be created by sucking in the water to bring the gas to the surface.
Silence on the license application
After five test wells between 2009 and 2018, the FDE submitted a concession application in 2018, to which the state has still not responded. “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.”explains Pascal Mittelberger, President of the FDE.
He reminds that this technology has nothing to do with shale gas and does not cause the same environmental damage: “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.”defends the President of the FDE
fear of the population
Nevertheless, this technology encounters more resistance than firedamp extraction. First, because it’s not about recovering a gas that would have been released into the atmosphere in the long term anyway, but about getting a fossil fuel into a basement where it could lie dormant for more millennia (so the process isn’t ” green “). Then by the local population’s fears of groundwater pollution or subsidence and a decline in real estate values of land near mining sites.
The European Union is home to other projects to recover gas from coal mines, such as in Belgium, where an industrialist-backed research center plans to use mine-trapped firedamp to produce carbon-neutral hydrogen the world is produced by fracking natural gas, a technology , which emits a lot of CO2).