Regulatory Context for Coalbed Methane Produced Water Management

The legal and regulatory framework governing coalbed methane (CBM) produced water management in the western United States is complex, consisting of a set of interleaved federal, tribal, and state laws and principles of water rights within which CBM projects operate. In the six states identified for this study (Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming), CBM may be developed on federal, state, tribal, or private lands. Each of the six states has different regulatory approaches toward CBM permitting and produced water management. Similarly, several tribes with lands within or adjacent to basins with active CBM development have taken different approaches toward CBM production, management of CBM produced water, and/or regulations to mitigate potential impacts of CBM produced water.

This chapter reviews the significant statutory and regulatory provisions that address the management of CBM produced water in the six western states, with an aim to provide a foundation to understand the regulatory challenges of managing CBM produced water. Several recent changes to the regulatory framework affecting CBM operations in several states took place during the course of this study and the permitting processes for CBM production and CBM produced water management are continuing to evolve. The recent changes that have been made are discussed because they exemplify the complexities and challenges of managing CBM produced water and offer insight toward the way in which federal, tribal, and state governments may be considering how to manage CBM produced water in the future.

Much of the material compiled for this chapter derived from the compendium on water rights laws in 19 western states by Hutchins (2004). Two other broadly encompassing references regarding water law, western CBM production, and CBM produced water

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