Thursday, April 12, 2007

Coalbed methane -- plan B

We have expressed concern about coalbed methane development because of its potential negative impact on farming and ranching.

Specifically, the salinization of the Tongue and Powder Rivers through dumping highly saline water from deep coal seams could permanently damage irrigated farmland along those rivers. One doesn't have to have spent a lot of time in eastern Montana to know that well-watered farmland is a scarce and precious commodity in those parts.

In an exciting development, a CBM drilling company has come up with a plan to take water from the deep (roughly 1000 ft) coal seams where the methane is being extracted, and to reinject that water into a shallower coal seam (about 300 feet) that has the capacity to absorb the water.

This is the best of both worlds, since it not only prevents salinzation of rivers and soil, it also puts this water at a level where it can be reached with conventional well-drilling and used for things like watering livestock.

Permit applications are being submitted, and if things are as billed, it will be a win-win for everyone.


Sarpy Sam said...

Win-win for everyone? I'm not so sure. It's a promising beginning but the whole idea is new enough that I wouldn't call it a win-win.

How far will the injected water migrate? Who owns the injected water? Will the injected water still be to high in salts when it is pumped out again or will the coal bed filter it?

What affect will this have on existing wells? A different company is pumping water out of the same coal seam that this company wants to inject water into, how does it affect that especially since it is across the border in Wyoming?

I'm sure there are more questions about this out there that I haven't asked. Too many questions to call it a win-win. A hope for the future would be better.

Montana Headlines said...

As I said, "if things are as billed," it will be a win-win.

Good questions all. Existing water law would regulate who owns the underground water rights. If the water is pumped out again, it won't be for irrigation, any more than is any other well-water in the region.

The question is whether the water is too saline to be useful for watering livestock -- a question easily answered, as is the question of whether there are existing wells drawing water off that same coal seam.

We should want to promote energy development, as long as surface rights owners are recompensed fairly for any land taken out of agricultural commission during the time of extracting the methane, and as long as we can be assured that soil and water remain good for agricultural use long after the energy development is gone.

If either of those conditions can't be met, the methane should be left right where it is.