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WYO Considers Keeping the Lid on Some Water Supplies

June 10, 2008

Lander, WY – Wyoming needs to take a stingier approach when it comes to water, according to the State Geologist. He's recommending in a new report that the state be more selective about coal-bed methane development, because in some cases, hundreds of barrels of underground water are brought up along with the natural gas, and very little gas is produced.

Steve Jones of the Wyoming Outdoor Council says the water-to-gas ratio is especially unbalanced in the Powder River Basin.

"Usually, we're very careful about retaining our water and our water rights, yet we aren't being very careful about this groundwater at all."

Jones says in some cases, coal-bed methane wastewater is used on ranches that want the extra, but most of it is discharged into rivers and streams, and ends up flowing out of the state. The wastewater isn't pristine, but it can be treated, so Jones believes the best option is to put it back into the underground water tables. This is currently being done at only a few locations in Wyoming and Montana.

"The technology is definitely there, it's just a matter of whether or not the operators want to do it, in the sense that they think they can afford to do it."

Operators say it's an additional cost they can't afford. The U.S. Senate recently passed a bill that would promote pilot projects to study methods for using coal-bed methane wastewater more effectively.

The geology report recommends a moratorium on wells with a water-to-gas ratio of more than three. Some industry experts say the water is a valuable commodity, too, and its value should be factored into the state's analysis.

Deborah Smith/Kevin Clay, Public News Service - WY