Cleats are systematic, natural fractures in coal seams. They account for most of the permeability and much of the porosity of coalbed methane reservoirs and can have a significant effect on the success of hydraulic fracturing stimulation. Laboratory hydraulic fracturing experiments were conducted on coal blocks under true tri-axial stress to simulate fracturing stimulation of coal seams. Fractures were initiated by injecting a water gel with luminous yellow fluorescent dye into an open hole section of a wellbore. The impact of cleats on initiation and propagation of hydraulic fractures in coal seams is discussed. Three types of hydraulic fracture initiation and propagation pattern were observed in this study: 1) The hydraulic fracture initiated and then grew along the cleat. 2) The hydraulic fracture initiated along a butt cleat or a fracture (natural or induced by drilling) oriented roughly in the minimum horizontal stress direction, then turned to propagate along the first face cleat that it encountered or gradually turned towards the maximum horizontal stress direction. 3) The hydraulic fracture initiated perpendicular to the minimum stress and, when it encountered a face cleat, tended to propagate along the cleats if the extension direction does not deviate greatly (<20�� as determined in this paper) from the maximum horizontal stress direction. When a coal seam is hydraulically fractured, the resulting fracture network is controlled by the combined effect of several factors: cleats determine the initiation and extension path of the fracture, the in-situ stress state dominates the main direction of the fracture zone and bedding planes impede fracture height growth.