Coalbed Methane Produced Water In The Western Us

at order-of-magnitude or factor ranges of accuracy, are used to frame issues so they can be easily conceptualized for consideration by different parties in more detail (Harte, 1988; Weinstein and Adam, 2008). The committee emphasizes that Box 4.3 does not provide a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of potential uses of CBM produced water, but is intended as a tool to facilitate communication about considering options for potential use of CBM produced water as opposed to simply disposing of the water.


CBM produced water is currently being managed either as a waste product or as a water resource that can be put to beneficial use, although the management as a waste product far exceeds use of CBM produced water as a beneficial natural resource. Irrespective of which avenue is taken, production, handling, management, and/or disposal of produced water all contribute to the cost of production of CBM (discussed further in Chapter 6). Few instances are reported in the industry or scientific literature wherein CBM produced water constitutes an income stream for energy producers. In concept and on paper, putting CBM produced water to beneficial use would seem to be a desirable and relatively easy objective to achieve. In reality, management or discharge of CBM produced water for the specific purpose of achieving beneficial use is potentially economically burdensome, complex, and challenging.

Produced water is a necessary byproduct of CBM extraction, although the amount of water produced per unit of natural gas recovered and the quality of water produced vary significantly among CBM producing basins. Additionally, the amount of water produced per CBM well typically decreases as the life of the well is extended (see Chapter 2). These circumstances make CBM produced water an uncertainty and only a temporary source of water for beneficial use. Thus, although CBM produced water does have a value, and even though its availability is transient, this uncertainty in availability contributes to the difficulty of addressing opportunities for beneficial use.

Less than 5 percent of all CBM produced water in the six western states considered here is directly or intentionally beneficially used for irrigation of agricultural lands. With the exception of livestock watering, essentially all other beneficial uses of this water are ancillary or consequential to disposal through discharge—e.g., streamflow augmentation, wildlife and aquatic habitat enhancement, aquifer recharge, and wildlife watering.

Nearly 85 percent of all CBM produced water in the Powder River Basin (Wyoming and Montana combined) is disposed of either by storage in constructed impoundments or direct, permitted discharge to ephemeral drainages and perennial streams. This approach to produced water management is driven by large volumes and relatively low salinities of produced water (see Chapter 2) and the regulatory ease and environmental suitability of discharge or storage.

This management contrasts with the San Juan, Uinta, New Mexico portion of the Raton, and the Piceance Basins, where essentially all water produced as a consequence of CBM production is disposed of through reinjection to geological formations deep below drinking water supplies or CBM aquifers. This approach to produced water management is driven by small volumes and high salinities of produced water, regulatory ease and environmental suitability of deep reinjection, and the high costs of treatment to achieve water quality conditions compatible with beneficial use options.

The potential economic, ecological, and environment value or benefits of CBM produced water, either in its present state or following necessary treatment, have not been fully evaluated. Intentionally simplistic calculations of the potential economic value of CBM produced water from the Powder River Basin, based on the past 15 years of reported water production, suggest commercial significance of this produced water for municipal purposes. While the specific dollar value of the water may change with different input parameters, the intrinsic value of the CBM produced water resides in the fact that it can be used and is irreplaceable.


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Stewart, D.R. 2006. Developing a new water resource from production water. Presentation at the International Petroleum Environmental Conference, San Antonio, TX, October 17-20. Available at (accessed January 27, 2010).

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Veil, J.A. 2009. Regulations and Impediments for Treatment and Beneficial Use of CBM Produced Water. Presentation at the International Petroleum Environmental Conference, Houston, TX, November 2-5. Available at ipec.utulsa. edu/Conf2009/Papers%20received/Veil_Regs.pdf (accessed January 27, 2010).

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