Chapter Five

Environmental Effects of Coalbed Methane Development and Produced Water Management

An element of the committee's charge includes identifying documented positive and negative effects of coalbed methane (CBM) produced water on the quality and quantity of surface water and groundwater resources, soil resources, and ecological communities. This chapter is weighted toward discussion about the Powder River Basin because large volumes of CBM produced water are discharged to surface waters or impoundments or are being put to beneficial use there, relative to other western CBM basins. Correspondingly, most of the scientific literature on the environmental effects of CBM produced water and most of the controversy that has precipitated litigation or media attention about CBM produced water management has originated from research conducted in this basin. With deep reinjection the primary method of CBM produced water management in the other western CBM basins, fewer perceived or documented effects on the surface environment or shallow groundwater have contributed to less litigation, less media attention, and fewer studies of environmental effects being completed in those basins. Data that characterize the quality of waters in the geologic formations used for reinjection are not readily available, but can be inferred from borehole logs.

Reports from private citizens on the effects of CBM produced water on the environment were also instrumental in focusing some committee attention to examining potential research or information gaps associated with CBM produced water management. This chapter contains a review of registered citizen complaint information from several official state websites and identifies several cases in which the complaints were brought to court.


The primary substantiated effects of CBM produced water on groundwater resources include (1) drawdown of groundwater levels in coalbeds as a result of pumping water from coalbeds during CBM extraction and (2) changes in groundwater quality associated with

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