Coalbed Methane Produced Water In The Western Us

new wells, to protect themselves and nearby well owners. However, no legal requirement exists for collection of baseline water quality or water level data.18

One registered complaint from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming cited increased erosion from unmanaged CBM produced water discharge (see Figure 5.6). A sustained period of CBM produced water entering the headwaters of a seasonally ephemeral channel resulted in substantial channel scouring, bank erosion, and head cutting, with the eroded channel migrating progressively upgradient. In this particular case, the water entering the channel was the result of overflow discharges from an upslope-produced water impoundment. Through litigation the CBM operator responsible for the overflow and subsequent produced water management was ordered to bring impoundment overflows into control and to discontinue discharge to the ephemeral channel.

In another documented case in Wyoming, a private citizen's complaint was filed against the state and a private CBM operator over CBM water discharges that were permitted and regulated. The private landowner charged that CBM waters released into ephemeral channels upstream from his property were altering portions of the land and preventing irrigation of hay meadows.19 The state and the CBM operator were charged with violating the Clean Water Act and the Wyoming Environmental Quality Act.

Other citizen complaints have reached the courtroom. As of 2007, at least 20 farmers and ranchers in Wyoming, Montana, and Colorado had sued CBM operators and state agencies for damages related to CBM water discharges (McGuire, 2007). In 2003 a district court in Wyoming ruled that CBM operations had damaged nearby land used for cattle grazing. The plaintiffs testified that the CBM crews drove across the rangeland, mixed topsoil with salt-laden subsoil, and let hillsides erode away.20 Landowners have also filed suit against permitting agencies and permitting procedures in some cases where the landowners have indicated adverse impacts on their land from produced water discharges. For example, in 2010 ranch owners in Wyoming contested before the Wyoming Environmental Quality Council (EQC) the terms of a discharge permit and the consequence of produced water discharges to private property under the terms of a Wyoming DEQ-issued discharge permit held by a nearby private CBM operator. The landowners claimed they lost productivity of agricultural land and trees due to salt buildup from CBM waters flowing across their Powder River Basin property. The Wyoming EQC sided with the plaintiffs. This complaint was presented before the Wyoming EQC following an EPA and private consultant finding of fault with the scientific basis of permitting being used by Wyoming DEQ.21 The state of

18J. Harju, Wyoming SEO, personal communication, April 2009.

19See (accessed April 29, 2010).

20See (accessed May 27, 2010).

2lSee (accessed April 29, 2010).

FIGURE 5.6 Stream bank erosion caused by headwater flows in ephemeral drainage of Barber Creek, Wyoming; water sourced from upgradient CBM storage impoundment releases, Powder River Basin. SOURCE: Used with permission from Gregory Wilkerson, Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Wyoming ruled that the permit, which had been issued using rules since criticized by the EPA and state consultants, was no longer valid.


Concerns about environmental effects associated with CBM production and produced water management are related to short- and long-term consequences associated with two general activities: (1) groundwater withdrawal associated with CBM extraction and (2) the disposal, management, and permitted discharge of produced water. Much of the information on effects derives from the Powder River Basin of Wyoming, where over 90 percent

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