Coalbed methane has rapidly become an important source of natural gas, particularly in the Inter-mountain West. The rapidity of its development has resulted in significant pressure on communities to deal with its environmental consequences.
Coalbed methane production often results in large quantities of water that are released as byproducts of production; in some cases, the water may inundate sensitive arid ecosystems, worsen surface water quality, and diminish undergroundwater supplies.
Noise, dust, and increased traffic; impairment of visibility and conflicts with recreation and other land use; impacts on wildlife and ecosystems; and other consequences of development have generated opposition in many communities.
Particularly vexing has been development on split estates, where surface owners do not own the mineral rights underneath their property and are required to cooperate with development that may disrupt the use and control of their land. This article examines the problems associated with coalbed methane development and offers a variety of suggestions for how conflicts could be reduced and how development could proceed in ways that are ecologically sustainable.
The Energy Policy Act passed by Congress in 2005 amended the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) to exclude hydraulic fracturing fluids (except diesel fuel) related to energy production from regulation under the UIC program. States may choose to regulate hydraulic fracturing, however.
There are over four thousand coalbed methane wells in the Black Warrior River watershed. Tens of thousands of acres are leased to this practice, creating a massive network of roads and well pads. The extraction of coalbed methane involves a process known as hydraulic fracturing.
The Black River Watershed in Alabama provides water to over a million people.
See: Orion Magazine. November/December 2006. Taking On Goliath: Across the West, gas development is devastating land and people. | Now citizens are fighting back.