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Powder River

Coal Bed Methane (CBM) drilling in the Powder River Basin is being permitted by the Montana State Board of Oil and Gas Conservation under the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation on 10,000 acres of BLM, Montana State and privately owned lands near Decker. The potential for water pollution is high. Methane gas is held in the coal seams through downward pressure exerted by water. As wells are drilled, water is pumped up to the surface at a rate of 17,000 to 28,000 gallons a day (24 hours). These large quantities of water produced by drilling and pumping are very saline and contain elevated levels of arsenic, boron, iron, manganese, radium, fluoride, ammonia, sulfates and other water polluting elements. The water is usually discharged into surface waters, where dangerous levels of salts can be introduced into tributaries of the Powder River. Soils irrigated with sodium rich water will become saline and toxic to plant growth. Water discharged into streams will flow into fisheries and destroy them. Montana law allows water to be discharged into drainages, because the water is considered a byproduct of development and legally falls under a non-beneficial use category. Based on BLM estimates, the entire Powder River Basin, including Wyoming, should see as many as 175,000 wells in the next 10 years withdrawing up to 8 trillion gallons of by “product water” which will impact water quality downstream.

Wyoming Representative Barbara Cubin recently introduced a bill in Congress to bypass safeguards in the law to easily permit CBM wells. Wyoming has said that water from CBM wells will not be allowed to run down the Powder River and pollute Montana rivers. The rivers of significant impact in this area are the Powder, Tongue, Little Big Horn and the Yellowstone Rivers. ~

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