Wyoming, Montana to Test CBM Water Discharges

As hoped for by coalbed methane producers operating in the Powder River Basin, Wyoming and Montana regulators have reached a tentative agreement to prevent CBM production from polluting the rivers in the region. Under the tentative proposal announced last week, CBM producers would be allowed to dump discharge water on the ground over an 18-to-24-month period to determine if it actually pollutes the rivers.

Under the agreement, river discharges would be monitored for pollution at the Wyoming-Montana border. If the pollution limits were exceeded, Wyoming would be responsible for notifying Montana authorities. Both states have been concerned about the growing CBM production in the region, and several groups have argued that required federal water discharge permits not be issued (see NGI, Jan. 8).

"We believe this agreement is a simple and straightforward means of ensuring that no measurable change occurs," said Art Compton, the administrator of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality's Planning, Prevention and Assistance Division.

Gary Beach, administrator of the Wyoming DEQ Water Quality Division, said he was "anxious to bring finality to this" issue.

Barrett Resources Corp., one of the Powder River Basin's leading CBM producers, had urged the DEQ to not stop issuing water permits, and asked the states to compromise because "billions" were at stake in the outcome. Duane Zavadil of Barrett said both states should decide soon what the water quality standards would be in 10 years because with the uncertainty, "companies will pull up and leave town."

The Wyoming DEQ began discussions on the issue last fall, which mostly focused on the prolific CBM production in the Powder River Basin. The basin's discharge flows into Montana and Wyoming, and Montana groups and some regulators had urged the DEQ to stop issuing National Pollutant Discharge Permits for CBM production.

The Wyoming DEQ agreed in January to not allow water quality to deteriorate in the Tongue, Powder and Little Powder rivers because of CBM production. Those rivers all flow through the Powder River Basin. Montana farmers claim that water discharged during CBM production adds salt and other contaminants, which in turn could harm crops.

©Copyright 2001 Intelligence Press Inc. All rights reserved. The preceding news report may not be republished or redistributed, in whole or in part, in any form, without prior written consent of Intelligence Press, Inc.