GJ firm to help Chinese on uses for coal mine gas

A Grand Junction company with decades of dealings in China has been named one of this year’s participants in the U.S.-China EcoPartnerships program.

“We’ve been working in China since 1989 so it’s, I guess, a reward for a lot of years of work,” said James Marshall, a founder of Raven Ridge Resources.

Raven Ridge and the Guizhou International Cooperation Center for Environmental Protection are one of six partnerships announced for 2013. They’ll work together to “seek to unlock the Chinese market for draining and utilizing coal mine methane, which can reduce a powerful greenhouse gas, improve mine safety by reducing the risk of explosion, and provide a source of energy,” the U.S. State Department said in a news release.

The EcoPartnerships program encourages cooperation between the two countries on energy and environmental issues. Entities including the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency also are involved in it.

Raven Ridge’s energy consulting services include providing evaluations on the feasibility of tapping methane as a resource that otherwise is typically vented during coal mine operations. China represents a giant market for methane capture because it relies heavily on coal for power and has thousands of mines.

The country has had numerous fatal mine accidents over the years. But reducing the danger by venting methane to the atmosphere is a concern because methane is considered many times more potent than carbon dioxide as a heat-trapping greenhouse gas. And vented methane instead could be used for power generation.

“It’s been very slow-going, like it is in all other places in the world, but they’re catching on that it’s a valuable resource that is otherwise wasted,” Marshall said.

Some methane capture occurs in U.S. mines, although some environmentalists have called for much more use of the practice. A power generation plant running on methane went into operation last year at Oxbow Mining’s Elk Creek Mine in Somerset.

But Marshall said the economics can be more challenging domestically than in China. Gas prices are low so there’s not a market for the methane, and so are electric prices, compared to China’s, reducing the cost-effectiveness of installing methane power plants.

Lack of nearby pipelines to ship methane to market also can be an issue for mines such as those in the Somerset area. Gas can be used for heating on site, something Arch Coal’s West Elk Mine does, but that’s a seasonal use, Marshall said.

“There’s the safety incentive, there’s the environmental incentive, but there’s not really an economic benefit at this point” for many U.S. mines to use rather than vent methane, Marshall said.

Some of Raven Ridge’s China work has been funded by the U.S. government in an attempt to help address global air pollution and climate issues. Raven Ridge also has done work in numerous other international and domestic locations.

Marshall had worked in oil and gas locally, and his partner, Ray Pilcher, was involved in the area in mining, and the two founded their business after their industries tanked in the early-1980s.

For the work they do now, “My oil and gas background and Ray’s mining background were a perfect combination and it’s worked very well for us,” Marshall said.


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