Systematic laboratory scale experiments on coal blocks can provide significant insight into the underground coal gasification (UCG) process. Our earlier work has demonstrated the various features of the early UCG cavity shape and rate of growth through lab-scale experiments on coal combustion, wherein the feed gas is oxygen. In this paper, we study the feasibility of in situ gasification of coal in a similar laboratory scale reactor set-up, under conditions relevant for field practice of UCG, using an oxygen-steam mixture as the feed gas. By performing the gasification reaction in a cyclic manner, we have been able to obtain a product gas with hydrogen concentrations as high as 39% and a calorific value of 178. kJ/mol. The effect of various operating parameters such as feed temperature, feed steam to oxygen ratio, initial combustion time and so on, on the product gas composition is studied and the optimum operating conditions in order to achieve desired conversion to syngas, are determined. We also study the effect of various design and operating parameters on the evolution of the gasification cavity. Empirical correlations are proposed for the change in cavity volume and its dimensions in various directions. The results of the previous study on the combustion cavity evolution are compared with this gasification study. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.