Energy policy — coalbed methane: State Engineer Dick Wolfe uses industry maps to develop rules governing produced water augmentation

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From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

State Engineer Dick Wolfe finished new rules for area coalbed methane wells Dec. 30. They allow most of the wells in San Juan Basin to be treated as nontributary, meaning the water in the coal seams does not connect with surface streams. “There’s a lot at stake. If they can turn Colorado water law on its head like this and get away with it, I don’t know how anybody can feel like their water rights are safe,” said Jim Fitzgerald, who successfully sued the state in 2005 for not protecting his water rights from coalbed methane drilling. Fitzgerald’s wife, Mary, and Bill and Elizabeth Vance of Archuleta County also were plaintiffs.

Their case went to the state Supreme Court, which said coalbed methane wells need to get a water permit from the state engineer. What’s more, gas companies might be required to create augmentation plans to replace the water they use…

The Supreme Court case scared water regulators – who feared a blizzard of paperwork – and gas companies – who did not want large new costs for drilling wells. Shortly after the Supreme Court ruling last April, the Legislature directed Wolfe’s office to set rules about which wells don’t need augmentation plans. The rulemaking is ongoing, but the portion that covers coalbed methane wells in Southwest Colorado was finalized in December…

During the rulemaking, area gas companies collaborated to create a map of nontributary water. Wolfe adopted that map as official state policy. The change takes effect at the end of January, but Fitzgerald and other land-owners plan to appeal to water courts. Wolfe defended his decision to use the gas companies’ model of underground water. It used good science based on “complete and robust data,” Wolfe wrote in his justification for the rules. Zeller, too, defended the way companies drew the map. “If we were in doubt, we erred in the interest of the other water rights holders,” she said…

Durango City Manager Ron LeBlanc sent Wolfe a letter last month to say he thought the rules could hurt the city’s water rights on the Animas and Florida rivers. “We believe the results of such rulemaking may not be manifested for decades to come, and that the effect of the dewatering of aquifers in the area of our water rights will have a detrimental and irreversible effect on the city’s pubic water supply,” LeBlanc wrote…

San Juan National Forest Supervisor Mark Stiles sent Wolfe a letter asking for a delay until federal land officials could do detailed studies on springs in the land they manage. Wolfe didn’t grant the delay, but the Forest Service does not plan to appeal, Stiles said…

Wolfe said he took seriously the concerns from foresters, city officials and others. “I don’t want people to think that we were totally dismissive of these individuals’ concerns,” he said. In general, Wolfe’s map puts wells in the southern parts of La Plata and Archuleta counties into the nontributary zone, exempting them from strict regulations. Most of the Southern Ute Indian Reservation is in the nontributary zone.

Even with the nontributary exemption, gas companies still will have to file well permits for more than 4,000 Southwest Colorado wells. And the tributary wells will need court-approved plans to replace the water they use. Those plans will go back to Judge Gregory Lyman, the Durango water judge whose ruling started the whole affair, Zeller said. “He’s going to get a whole bunch of paperwork,” she said.

More coalbed methane coverage here and here.

One thought on “Energy policy — coalbed methane: State Engineer Dick Wolfe uses industry maps to develop rules governing produced water augmentation

  1. You know that the majority of “CBM produced water” is good usable water. It should not be confused with “frac water”. It is a shame the good produced water is disposed of in the process of gas production. Probably more than 650 million barrels in 2009.

    Usually there are other geological formations that exist above or below the coal seam that the good produced water can be injected into and thus SAVED for future use by the landowner when they need it.

    Under the right circumstances, there is an opportunity to re-inject the “produced water” into another formation (i.e. sand zone, etc.) all within the same well bore (don’t even bring the water above ground). Those circumstances require:

    1. The presence of a receiving zone either below or above the gas production zone

    2. And produced water quality that is similar to the receiving zone, or that can be chemically treated to meet those specifications.

    This method of water mitigation is called In-Bore Aquifer Recharge Injection, and is now commonly being used in the Coal Bed Methane world in the Powder River Basin in parts of Wyoming. This method is becoming popular for three primary reasons:

    1. Water can be mitigated at between $0.03 and $0.08 per barrel vs. $0.30 to $1.50 per barrel

    2. Regulatory restrictions on surface discharge have forced the Production Companies to find alternatives to historic methods of water management. IE stop discharging the water.

    3. Landowners want to keep any good water that they can on their property for future use. THEY SHOULD!

    While this method does not work in every scenario, some basic geological evaluation can be done to see if it can work. If it is viable, the savings are exceptional. In the CBM plays in Wyoming companies have average saving of $25 million on 100 well implementation producing water over a five year period. So why don’t more companies use this methodology for handling water.

    1. They already have infrastructure in place for “disposal” of the water.

    2. They have the regulatory permits in place that “allow” them to continue with surface discharge.

    3. They don’t want to have to do any work to save millions of gallons of good water.

    It is a sad situation really. Probably 90% of the GOOD USABLE water produced from the Powder River Basin could be saved. NO PIPING. NO EVAPORATION PONDS, LIMITED SURFACE DISTURBANCES, NO PROBLEMS in winter months.

    Eliminating surface discharge does NOT have to stop gas production. WE can still produce gas and SAVE our water with this type of water mitigation.

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