A bill in Montana has proposed that wastewater from coal-bed methane wells could be discharged into ponds on streams that typically flow only during heavy rain or spring runoff.
House Bill 383, proposes a way to provide necessary water to livestock and wildlife in drought-stricken areas of eastern Montana.
However, opponents told the Great Falls Tribune that the bill wrongly exempts the coal-bed methane industry from water-quality standards and could contaminate area groundwater, rivers and streams with drilling wastewater that can be salty or of poor quality.
The House endorsed the measure, 51-49, and a final vote is scheduled Monday.
Drilling for coal-bed methane is performed by releasing large amounts of groundwater to relieve the pressure holding the natural gas in coal seams.
Currently, most companies dump that water into rivers, allowing it to seep or evaporate from holding ponds or spraying it through sprinklers. Some water is used for livestock.
Rep. Krayton Kerns, R-Laurel, would like to allow companies to discharge wastewater into ponds built on “ephemeral streams,” streams that are usually dry until they are temporarily filled by a heavy rain or spring runoff.
The wastewater would be exempt from water-quality standards if it is used as a livestock or wildlife watering hole. Kerns told the Great Falls Tribune that the water would not pose a health threat to livestock or wildlife and should be diluted enough by rain or runoff that it wouldn’t contaminate groundwater or rivers downstream.
Democrats fear that the wastewater would harm crops by seeping into the soil. In addition, the standing water could also pose risks to humans by increasing mosquito populations and thus increase the threat of West Nile virus and encephalitis.
Supporters of the bill argued that eastern Montana’s clay soil is already high in sodium and arguing the area is too arid for most mosquitoes.