Effective management of water produced from coalbed methane wells in some western U.S. basins is limited by complications in the regulatory framework, not because of water quality, says a new congressionally mandated report from the National Research Council that examines management of water extracted from coalbed methane basins in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming.

In coalbed methane wells, water is pumped from coalbeds to release and capture methane - the main component of natural gas - but states are inconsistent in legal descriptions and management of this "produced water" as either a waste product or a byproduct with potential beneficial uses, such as for irrigation or livestock watering. Currently, the majority of this produced water is being disposed of rather than put to beneficial use, mainly due to costs and regulations, although techniques exist to treat the water to any desired quality. However, scientific evidence is often not integrated into regulatory decisions about produced water management, said the committee that wrote the report.

The short-term environmental effects of produced water are well-documented, localized, and relatively benign, the report says. The long-term environmental effects -- for example, extracting non-renewable "fossil" water that has not been replenished for hundreds to millions of years from coalbeds -- need further monitoring and analysis. The concept and practice of establishing the age of such water is currently not factored into management decisions.

Report: MANAGEMENT AND EFFECTS OF COALBED METHANE PRODUCED WATER IN THE WESTERN UNITED STATES.

Source: National Academies

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