In The Western United States

Committee on Management and Effects of Coalbed Methane Development and Produced Water in the Western United States

Committee on Earth Resources

Board on Earth Sciences and Resources

Water Science and Technology Board

Division on Earth and Life Studies




THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS • 500 Fifth Street, N.W. • Washington, DC 20001

NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.

The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations contained in this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Bureau of Land Management. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute their endorsement by the U.S. government. Supported by the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management under Award No. L08AC14198.

International Standard Book Number-13: 0-309-15432-1 International Standard Book Number-10: 0-309-15432-4

Additional copies of this report are available from the National Academies Press, 500 Fifth Street, N.W., Lockbox 285, Washington, DC 20055; (800) 624-6242 or (202) 334-3313 (in the Washington metropolitan area); Internet

Cover: The images of natural gas and water illustrate the need to consider management of two resources important to the United States and particularly to the arid West. Cover design by Anne Rogers.

Copyright 2010 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

Printed in the United States of America.


Advisers to the Nation on Science, Engineering; and Medicine

The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone is president of the National Academy of Sciences.

The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. Charles M. Vest is president of the National Academy of Engineering.

The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Harvey V. Fineberg is president of the Institute of Medicine.

The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy's purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone and Dr. Charles M. Vest are chair and vice chair, respectively, of the National Research Council.


WILLIAM L. FISHER (Chair), University of Texas, Austin

JAMES W. BAUDER, Montana State University, Bozeman

WILLIAM H. CLEMENTS, Colorado State University, Fort Collins

INEZ HUA, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana

ANN S. MAEST, Stratus Consulting, Boulder, Colorado

ARTHUR W. RAY, Wiley Environmental Strategies, Columbia, Maryland

W. C. "RUSTY" RIESE, BP America, Inc., Katy, Texas

DONALD I. SIEGEL, Syracuse University, New York

GEOFFREY THYNE, University of Wyoming, Laramie

National Research Council Staff

ELIZABETH A. EIDE, Study Director STEPHANIE E. JOHNSON, Senior Program Officer COURTNEY R. GIBBS, Program Associate

JASON R. ORTEGO, Research Associate (from November 1, 2009) NICHOLAS D. ROGERS, Research Associate (until October 31, 2009)


CLAYTON R. NICHOLS (Chair), Department of Energy, Idaho Operations Office

(Retired), Ocean Park, Washington JAMES A. BRIERLEY, Brierley Consultancy LLC, Highlands Ranch, Colorado WILLIAM S. CONDIT, Independent Consultant, Santa Fe, New Mexico ELAINE T. CULLEN, The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

Spokane Research Laboratory (Retired), Chattaroy, Washington GONZALO ENCISO, Oil and Gas Exploration Consultant, Houston, Texas MICHELLE MICHOT FOSS, University of Texas, Austin DONALD JUCKETT, American Association of Petroleum Geologists (Retired),

Springfield, Virginia ANN S. MAEST, Stratus Consulting, Boulder, Colorado

LELAND L. MINK, U.S. Department of Energy Geothermal Program (Retired),

Worley, Idaho MARY M. POULTON, University of Arizona, Tucson NORMAN H. SLEEP, Stanford University, Stanford, California RICHARD J. SWEIGARD, University of Kentucky, Lexington

National Research Council Staff

ELIZABETH A. EIDE, Senior Program Officer ERIC EDKIN, Program Associate NICHOLAS D. ROGERS, Research Associate


CORALE L. BRIERLEY (Chair), Brierley Consultancy, LLC, Highlands Ranch, Colorado

KEITH C. CLARKE, University of California, Santa Barbara

DAVID J. COWEN, University of South Carolina, Columbia

WILLIAM E. DIETRICH, University of California, Berkeley

ROGER M. DOWNS, Pennsylvania State University, University Park

JEFF DOZIER, University of California, Santa Barbara

KATHERINE H. FREEMAN, Pennsylvania State University, University Park

WILLIAM L. GRAF, University of South Carolina, Columbia

RUSSELL J. HEMLEY, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Washington, D.C.

MURRAY W. HITZMAN, Colorado School of Mines, Golden

EDWARD KAVAZANJIAN, JR., Arizona State University, Tempe

ROBERT B. McMASTER, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis

CLAUDIA INÉS MORA, Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico

BRIJ M. MOUDGIL, University of Florida, Gainesville

CLAYTON R. NICHOLS, Department of Energy, Idaho Operations Office (Retired),

Ocean Park, Washington JOAQUIN RUIZ, University of Arizona, Tucson PETER M. SHEARER, University of California, San Diego REGINAL SPILLER, Allied Energy, Houston, Texas

RUSSELL E. STANDS-OVER-BULL, Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, Denver, Colorado

TERRY C. WALLACE, JR., Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico HERMAN B. ZIMMERMAN, National Science Foundation (Retired), Portland, Oregon

National Research Council Staff

ANTHONY R. de SOUZA, Director

ELIZABETH A. EIDE, Senior Program Officer

DAVID A. FEARY, Senior Program Officer

ANNE M. LINN, Senior Program Officer


MARK D. LANGE, Associate Program Officer

LEA A. SHANLEY, Postdoctoral Fellow

JENNIFER T. ESTEP, Financial and Administrative Associate

NICHOLAS D. ROGERS, Financial and Research Associate

COURTNEY R. GIBBS, Program Associate JASON R. ORTEGO, Research Associate ERIC J. EDKIN, Senior Program Assistant TONYA E. FONG YEE, Senior Program Assistant


CLAIRE WELTY (Chair), University of Maryland, Baltimore County JOAN EHRENFELD, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey SIMON GONZALEZ, National Autonomous University of Mexico, Mexico City CHARLES N. NAAS, Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania JAMES M. HUGHES, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia THEODORE L. HULLAR, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York KIMBERLEY L. JONES, Howard University, Washington, D.C. G. TRACY MEHAN III, The Cadmus Group, Inc., Arlington, Virginia JAMES K. MITCHELL, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg

DAVID H. MOREAU, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill LEONARD SHABMAN, Resources for the Future, Washington, D.C. DONALD I. SIEGEL, Syracuse University, New York SOROOSH SOROOSHIAN, University of California, Irvine HAME M. WATT, Independent Consultant, Washington, D.C. JAMES L. WESCOAT, JR., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign GARRET P. WESTERHOFF, Malcolm Pirnie, Inc., White Plains, New York

National Research Council Staff



LAURA J. EHLERS, Senior Staff Officer

STEPHANIE E. JOHNSON, Senior Staff Officer

LAURA J. HELSABECK, Associate Staff Officer

M. JEANNE AQUILINO, Financial and Administrative Associate

ANITA A. HALL, Senior Program Associate

ELLEN A. DeGUZMAN, Research Associate

MICHAEL STOEVER, Senior Program Assistant

STEPHEN RUSSELL, Program Assistant

The committee has approached this congressionally mandated task to examine the management of coalbed methane (CBM) produced water in six western states within a national context of increasing demand to develop domestic energy resources in environmentally and economically viable ways. The production of CBM for use as an energy source requires pumping water from coalbeds to release methane from the coal surfaces. The CBM "produced water" that results from this pumping process is managed through treatment, storage, disposal, and/or use, under a complex set of federal and state regulations.

Although produced water and its management are common to the majority of oil and gas production activities, CBM produced water has been the subject of specific, recent attention for several reasons: (1) the CBM industry is relatively young—with most operations in the western United States only producing methane since the 1990s—and development has been rapid in several regions; (2) the length of time to observe and understand potential effects on the environment from CBM produced water has been correspondingly brief; (3) the relatively low salinity of some CBM produced water has allowed consideration of this water for various practical uses in the arid West; and (4) litigation within and among states, citizens, and industry sharing CBM basins and watersheds has resulted from differing approaches to CBM produced water management.

To address the study, the committee reviewed documents produced by federal and state agencies and consultants, peer-reviewed literature, online databases and resources, and information requested from and submitted by external sources, including three public meetings and six public teleconferences. The committee held its public meetings in Washington, D.C.; Denver, Colorado; and Santa Fe, New Mexico. Each public meeting included dialogue with the study sponsor, the Bureau of Land Management, other federal and state agencies, academic and national laboratory researchers, and industry representatives who addressed various points of the committee's study charge. An opportunity for public input was provided at the committee meeting in Denver.

Management and Effects of Coalbed Methane Produced Water in the United States PREFACE

The committee was sensitive to the interest in understanding the effects of CBM produced water on the environment when it is treated and released for disposal or might be used for any beneficial purposes. The committee was thus conscientious in its efforts to identify and distinguish between scientifically and technically documented effects of CBM produced water on the environment; those effects that may be considered "potential" effects through laboratory studies, for example, but without field documentation; and reports of effects that do not yet have enough supporting data or independent analysis to determine cause. In a comparable way, hydraulic fracturing was not a specific item the committee was tasked to address but was a topic raised to the committee's attention during the course of this study. Hydraulic fracturing uses fluid injection to stimulate oil and gas production in many oil and gas wells but is employed rarely, or not at all, in CBM operations where coal seams are relatively near to the surface and have correspondingly high initial water contents. Without a direct link between hydraulic fracturing and the largest volumes of CBM produced water that are managed in the West, the committee addressed hydraulic fracturing only briefly in the report.

Throughout its examination of CBM produced water management, the committee has assumed that operators, regulatory agencies, water treatment companies, and private citizens alike use appropriate and professional procedures in their operations and in their management of produced water. The committee has thus focused its efforts on ways in which the current regulatory, legal, environmental, energy, and economic framework functions with respect to management of produced water from CBM operations and how this framework could be supported and improved. Nonetheless, in some instances data and information have demonstrated that "best practices" have not been followed in the management of CBM produced water and the committee has noted the situations which came to our attention.

As demands continue to couple energy resource development with environmental stewardship, demands for water resources and effective management of water for multiple uses will likewise continue to grow. In this context, an examination of CBM produced water management is timely, and the committee hopes this report informs the decision-making process with respect to important energy and water resources.

William Fisher


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