Buffalo Field Office

Coal Bed Methane Development - Past to Present

Coalbed methane gas has been known to exist in the Powder River Basin (PRB) since early settlers first came into the area. In 1987, the Rawhide Butte subdivision had to be abandoned because of hydrogen sulfide and methane gas seeping into the basements of homes that were built on a coalbed.

In 1989, the Coal Bed Methane Environmental Assessment, Eastern [Johnson] and Western Campbell Counties was begun to assess the impacts of this development. Major concerns addressed were the volumes of water which would have to be pumped (up to 397,400 liters (2,500 barrels) per well per day) and discharged, depletion of the groundwater and the effects on existing stock and domestic water wells completed in the coals, effects on other aquifers from potential water migration, and effects of discharged water on surface water quality. The Decision Record (DR) for the EA found that no significant impacts were to be expected from the project based on what was known at the time.

The Wyoming State Engineer's Office (WSEO) and the WDEQ, Water Quality Division, each required a permit to produce (water well permit) and discharge (National Pollution Discharge Elimination System; NPDES permit) water to the surface. The BLM intended to rely on this system of permits to monitor what would occur as a result of the methane production. If problems did occur, the BLM intended to take appropriate action to mitigate the impacts when issuing federal applications for permit to drill (APD's).

Because the primary area of interest was located in steep, erosive river breaks topography, many of the mitigation measures developed were specific to minimizing erosion problems. The stipulations were as follows:

  1. BLM would work with the private landowner, industry, and other entities to put the discharged water to beneficial use.
  2. Surface discharge would only be allowed to well-developed stable channels.
  3. Cumulative maximum discharge would not exceed the annual, naturally occurring peak flow or approximately 33.4 liters per second/259 hectares (1.18 cubic feet per second/mi2).
  4. Instream drop structures would be used to reduce the effective energy gradient and prevent acceleration of channel erosion.
  5. If degradation were observed, discharge points would be moved downstream or to another channel.
  6. Temporary crossings may be needed across ice flow in winter to protect livestock.
  7. Operators would be required to augment or provide an alternate source of water to compensate surface owners.
  8. Surface disturbance in important wildlife habitat would be minimized.
  9. Visual resources would be protected.