Conclusions and Recommendations

The commercial potential of some coals to serve as a source of natural gas has been realized only in the past three decades in the form of coalbed methane (CBM) production. The energy value of this resource can often be achieved by pumping water from water-saturated coal seams to reduce the pressure in the seam, allowing methane to desorb and flow to the surface. Thus, CBM production requires management of two important resources—natural gas and CBM "produced water."

Management of CBM produced water is a challenge for regulatory agencies, CBM operators, water treatment companies, policy makers, natural resource agencies, some landowners, and the public because produced water from CBM extraction represents a waste to some and is considered a beneficial byproduct of CBM activity by others. Furthermore, natural hydrogeological variations among and within CBM basins make a simple, single management approach to CBM produced water unrealistic. Presently, no collectively and clearly defined goals, objectives, management positions, or regulatory policies exist among federal and state agencies and other stakeholders regarding CBM produced water management and potential beneficial use.

The conclusions and recommendations in this chapter are directed toward identifying and resolving what the committee identifies as gaps—in data and information about CBM produced water geochemistry and basin hydrogeology, the effects of CBM production and produced water discharges on the environment, and the regulatory framework governing the management of CBM produced water. Resolving these gaps could increase the ability of stakeholders to continue to develop more effective and sound CBM development and produced water management practices. These recommendations also serve to reinforce efforts being made by individuals, regulatory authorities, operating companies, research institutions, and water treatment companies to monitor, analyze, regulate, and treat CBM produced water for disposal and/or beneficial use. The committee has examined the most prolific CBM basins—the Powder River, San Juan, Raton, Piceance, and Uinta located in five of the six western states identified for this study—New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and Montana. North Dakota, which is also identified as a target for this study,

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