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The blame for slowed coal-bed methane development in Wyoming's Powder River Basin could soon shift from the permitting practices of state and federal agencies to problems posed by methane water quality, Gov. Dave Freudenthal said last week.
Freudenthal's comments dovetailed with a renewed interest on the part of coal-bed methane companies in treating the coal seam water discharged in the methane drilling process an issue that becomes increasingly pressing as the Powder River Basin's coal-bed methane play moves northwest, away from the relatively pure water discharged in operations close to Gillette, Wyo., and into the more problematic Big George coal seam.
Geologists and methane companies have estimated that the Big George may hold as much as 70 percent of the total recoverable coal-bed methane in the Powder River Basin. But the seam's water quality is also significantly lower than that of other coal deposits in the region, and in many cases the Wyoming Department of Water Quality prohibits its discharge into the state's waterways.
Anadarko Petroleum Corp. spokesman Rick Robitaille said that his company was researching a number of possible filtration and treatment methods for Big George's water. He added that the price of treatment, not its technical feasibility, was the more significant challenge faced by methane operators.
But Powder River Basin Resource Council senior organizer Jill Morrison argued that coal-bed methane operators have used a heightened interest in developing filtration technology to draw attention away from the possibility of reinjecting well water into the coal seam an alternative that has been favored by environmental groups and has generally been dismissed by industry as financially and technically unrealistic.