A conservation group claims in a new study that treating coalbed methane (CBM) wastewater through reinjection and injection is “practical and affordable,” and could lead to “more responsible” development practices in the Powder River Basin. The study was commissioned by the Northern Plains Resource Council, based in Billings, MT.

The report, completed by Kuipers and Associates of Billings, claims to be the first technical, peer-reviewed analysis of solutions for methane wastewater management. The study includes two documents: “Coal Bed Methane-Produced Water: Management Options for Sustainable Development” and “Technology-Based Effluent Limitations for Coal Bed Methane Produced Water Discharges in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming.”

Using available economic and technical data, the study reported that, in most cases, it is practical and affordable to reinject CBM wastewater back into depleted aquifers or inject it into other suitable formations. In cases where reinjection and injection are not feasible, the study reported that it is affordable to treat all wastewater prior to discharge.

“We found that, with today’s gas prices, reinjection, injection, and water treatment are very much affordable and reduce the industry’s investment return by just a small fraction,” said Jim Kuipers. “Even in the unlikely event that gas prices drop to $2.50/Mcf, these technologies are absolutely affordable.”

The study found that at $2.50/Mcf of methane gas and assuming a 40% return on investment, gas producers would see a 34% return on investment when reinjecting/injecting 100% of methane wastewater, and a 30% return on investment if treating 100% of the wastewater prior to discharge. At $5.00/Mcf and assuming a 233% return on investment, gas producers would see a 223% return on investment with reinjecting/injecting 100% of the wastewater and a 217% return if treating 100% of the wastewater, according to the study.

Northern Plains Research Council has a stake in proving its assertions are correct. The environmental group in July charged Montana-based Fidelity Exploration & Production Co. with violating the federal Clean Water Act by discharging CBM wastewater without proper permits. It provided a 60-day notice of its intent to sue Fidelity in late July. “Methane wastewater is an unwanted byproduct of the extraction process and is industrial waste,” Northern Plains claimed in its letter. “The discharge of such wastewater is a discharge of pollutants within the meaning of the Clean Water Act,” and it said the company required a permit.

Fidelity COO Mike Caskey said Northern Plains was “welcome to bring concerns it might have to the company,” but added, “I still feel they prefer to litigate rather than find solutions.”

Comments on the report will be taken through Oct. 26, according to Kuipers. Study documents are available at www.northernplains.org and www.kuipersassoc.com. Email comments to CBMstudy@kuipersassoc.com.

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