News Feature | January 29, 2014

Study Links Groundwater Recovery To Decline In Coal-Bed Methane Production

By Sara Jerome

SavoryCreek

A new report appears to suggest that coal-bed methane production may have an impact on groundwater. 

"The report, prepared for the Bureau of Land Management by the Wyoming State Geological Survey, was delivered against the backdrop of declining coal-bed methane (CBM) production, which has plummeted since reaching its peak in 2009," Wyoming's Star-Tribune reported.  

The findings are notable because "they offered some insight into longstanding questions about the impact of CBM production on groundwater," the report said. 

“It is a different question than it was four, five, six years ago,” Jim Stafford, a WSGS hydrologist and one of the study’s authors said in the Star-Tribune. “The question then was, is this sustainable? The question now is, is it recovering?”

The answer, according to the Star-Tribune, varies. 

"The study found an overall recovery of water levels in the Upper and Lower Wyodak coal zones around Gillette between 2010 and 2012. More than half of the 27 monitoring wells in the Upper Wyodak saw water levels recover during that period, with recoveries ranging from as little as 86 inches to 176 feet. Two of the three wells in the Lower Wyodak showed signs of recovery," the report said. 

The study also found that groundwater levels were down in the Big George coal zone, "an area, the reported noted, that witnessed the highest levels of CBM water production. Only two of the 28 monitoring wells in the area saw water levels bounce back. Seven wells recorded drawdowns of more than 100 feet," according to the piece. 

The study contained good news for ranchers. "Many ranchers saw their stock wells and even their drinking water wells go dry during the coal-bed methane boom that began more than 15 years ago," the AP reported

The EPA has also studied the relationship between CBM production and groundwater.  "Based on the information collected and reviewed, EPA has determined that the injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids into CBM wells poses little or no threat to" sources of drinking water," the agency reported back in 2004.

Image credit: "Savory Creek in Wyoming," © 2011 USFWS Mountain Prairie, used under a Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

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