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Coalbed Methane Defeated At Bozeman Pass

Good news! J. M. Huber Corp. has given up its effort to pursue coalbed methane drilling in the pass area by signing a legal settlement. The debate was focused on what to do with groundwater, once it was brought to the surface. The water would be high in salts which damages soils, plants, crops and pollutes waterways. The legal settlement ensures no drilling will take place.

Coalbed methane (CBM) is made by bacteria found in coal veins 300 to 800 feet below the surface. Coal is a very porous mineral and water is always present in the pores. Methane gas is held in the coal veins through
pressure exerted by the water. As wells are drilled, water is pumped up to the surface at 17,000 gallons per day. Methane gas is released and captured by compressors at the well head and pumped into natural gas pipelines. The large quantities of water produced by CBM drilling is very saline and contain elevated levels of fluoride, ammonia and sulfates, and tends to pollute whatever streams it happens to run into.

July 1, 2001, J. M. Huber Corp. of New Jersey applied for a drilling permit on 1800 acres of leased mineral lands. On January 11, 2002, the Bridger Canyon Planning and Zoning Commission voted 5 to 0 to deny the permit. On July 10, 2002, Gallatin County Commission created a 32,000-acre emergency zoning district and adopted a moratorium on all CBM drilling. Huber then applied with the Montana State Oil and Gas Board for a natural gas drilling permit for exploration. The Oil and Gas Board approved the permit. The County Commission then extended its ban on all drilling.

Water pumped up in coalbed methane drilling is a pollutant because of its impact on irrigated cropland, native plants and aquatic life, including fish. Discharging CBM water into local streams would have disastrous effects downstream. Local landowners in the Bozeman Pass area resisted the drilling.

The settlement between J. M. Huber Corp. and Gallatin County resolves three lawsuits brought by Huber following denial of a test well drilling application near Bozeman Pass. Gallatin County Commissioners and the Planning and Zoning Commission have been consistently on the side of the Bozeman Pass landowners. The Green Mountain Grazing Association has been supporting CBM exploration and development and consistently joined with Huber in suits against Gallatin County. All parties in the lawsuit agreed to drop their differences and pay their own court costs and attorney fees. Huber will get no money from Gallatin County and has given up its efforts to drill in the Bozeman Pass area. ~

Also see: Coal Bed Methane Development in Montana

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