Ten years ago, some major U.S. oil companies began disposing of coal assets and properties because they were deemed not to be part of the core business. Passage of the Clean Air Act Amendment in 1990 kept commodity prices soft, and increasing government regulations likely contributed to their lack of interest. However, when natural gas prices surpassed $5/1000 ft3 and reached an all-time high of about $10/1000 ft3 in 2000, development and production of unconventional natural gas took on a frenzied pace.

Coalbed methane (CBM), once a scourge of mining operations, is now playing a key role in...

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