Produced water from coalbed methane wells could be an adjunct to supplies according to oil company data


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Hundreds of coal­bed methane wells in Las Animas County could produce water that could be used for other purposes in the Arkansas River basin, a study shows. A two­year waterquality monitoring program is showing the “produced water” — water that must be removed from coal seams to extract natural gas — is within limits for harmful contaminants like dissolved solids, conductivity, chloride, sodium, boron and iron, Julie Vlier, of Tetra Tech told the Arkansas Basin Roundtable Wednesday.

“Based on the collection data of the last two years, the quality is quite good,” Vlier said. “Concentrations in the Raton
Basin are lower.” The water ­quality question is important to companies like Pioneer Natural Resources and XTO Energy, which otherwise would have to spend more to inject the water back into the ground. The companies funded the study, which began in 2010. Pioneer alone has about 2,300 gas wells in the Raton Basin, said Jerry Jacob, environmental advisor for the company.

If the water can continue to flow freely into tributaries leading into the Purgatoire River west of Trinidad, it could increase the yield of existing water rights or even improve Colorado’s position in the Arkansas River Compact. Vlier also said the water could help in drought planning or fire mitigation.

The energy companies have state permits that would allow the release of up to 14,000 acre­feet — or 4.5 billion gallons — of water annually. Not all of it would likely reach the Purgatoire River, but it could be used to enhance existing water supplies.

Not everyone on the roundtable agreed with the rosy assessment for produced water.

“They’re taking water out of the same formation as Petroglyph,” said Al Tucker, a member of the Majors Ranch Environmental Committee, who represents Huerfano County on the roundtable. Landowners in Huerfano County say their wells were adversely affected during Petroglyph’s operations, which ended in 2011. In addition to contamination of groundwater, the company may have taken water out of priority, Tucker said.

“There are always bad actors,” Vlier told him.

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