Coalbed Methane Development in Wyoming's Powder River Basin is Transforming the Landscape.
Wyoming's Powder River Basin is experiencing the largest mineral boom in Wyoming history. Coalbed methane (CBM) gas development in the Powder River Basin has been characterized by industry as the "hottest natural gas play" in North America, making CBM development the greatest environmental and cultural threat Wyoming has faced in decades. This "gold rush" style pursuit of CBM is presenting enormous challenges for urban and rural citizens, ranchers and farmers, and impacted municipalities.
Unfortunately, coalbed methane extraction has significant detrimental consequences especially at the scale of development projected for the next 15 to 20 years of 50,000 to 120,000 wells. For up to two years of the well's initial operation, water must be pumped from the targeted coal seam at rates of up to 100 gallons per minute. Discharge of this water is causing extensive erosion and cases of irreversible soil damage from high salt and sodium in the discharge water. (See Erosion and Soil Damage Caused by Coalbed Methane Discharge Water )
Each coalbed methane well produces an average of 20 tons of salt per year. The quality of discharge water deteriorates substantially as one moves north, west and south of Gilette. Landowners need to know the discharge water quality, particularly the sodium adsorption rate (SAR) and their soil types.
Domestic and stock water wells are drying up or becoming contaminated with gas or other development-related constituents. Over 400 miles of power lines were constructed last year to serve the CBM wells and compressor stations, with over 400 miles projected for construction each year for the next 5 or 6 years. Compressor stations are often powered by jet engines whose noise shatters the solitude of rural living. Hundreds of semi-trucks and pickups driving to and from methane sites kick up clouds of dust, resulting in increased respiratory problems for livestock and humans.
The Powder River Basin Resource Council has responded by providing landowners with information on how to protect their property through surface access and damage agreements (See Help for Surface Owners) We have joined forces with other groups and landowners to oppose the damaging discharge of billions of gallons of water. EPA is now requiring additional evidence and signatures from landowners to ensure that discharges are truly beneficial Our appeal of discharge permits has halted the discharge of any new water into the Powder River drainage or the Tongue River drainage. Industry's "quick fix" solution has been to build large waste pits to store the water can lead to salt and sediment buildup, potential contamination of shallow aquifers and acreage out of production. (See Additional Information and Concerns over Coalbed Methane Development in the Powder River Basin.)