In support of coalbed methane water
October 27, 2008
You recently ran a guest editorial from Ed Swartz, a rancher in Campbell County (WY), on his opinion of coalbed methane water. My husband, Dudley, and I currently ranch upstream from Ed on Wildcat Creek, have coalbed methane gas development on our ranch, and we would like to share our perspective on the water. We too have a historical perspective on our ranch as my great grandparents homesteaded here in 1917. My grandparents and parents were friends and neighbors with Ed and his folks through the years. Our children went to school with Ed’s grandchildren and our grandchildren are the 6th generation owning cattle and helping with the operations on our ranch.
We also have seen the dead and dying trees phenomenon, however, it began occurring well before the methane development was here. In fact, the dying of the cottonwoods even has the experts puzzled as to the cause.
A lawsuit settlement several years ago resulted in water discharges from coalbed methane wells into Wildcat Creek being strictly regulated. The companies can only discharge in the winter months, for a limited number of days, and the discharges must be timed and coordinated. Companies must meet continually increasing regulatory restrictions in how they manage produced water and face significant fines for violations.
We are ranchers who like the coalbed methane water. It has been a godsend to our ranch during these years of drought. We have worked with the companies to develop and distribute water on our ranch, and our cows and the wildlife are very happy to have a multitude of watering opportunities that they don’t have to walk far to get. Our daughter and her family had their entire household water system supplied by coalbed methane water for a number of years until the company became fearful of the continuing regulatory restrictions coming down the pike because of lawsuits and protests by environmental groups and others. The coalbed methane water she was using was a higher quality than the water from our household well.
Let us share one experience we had in this last year. Because of the increasing regulatory requirements on the discharge of water, companies are now drilling re-injection wells, where the water will be treated before being re-injected. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Except for the fact that water quality standards require that treated water be injected into an aquifer of lower water quality, therefore, the water is being re-injected into aquifers so deep that in all likelihood, we will never be able to access it again. We had three of these injection wells drilled on our ranch last year in an area of the ranch in which we are still trying to get water developed.
Even as these injection wells were being drilled, because of WDEQ water standards and the high costs of monitoring associated with these standards, the company chose not to discharge water into some of our existing reservoirs which were either dry or stagnant due to the drought. They were also reluctant to install water tanks to address our need for livestock water for fear of the regulatory environment and the fines associated with potential leaks from these tanks. For a while it looked like we were going to be left high and dry without water for our cows in that area of the ranch, while an available and abundant source of water was being injected into deep aquifers underground. Fortunately, through a series of meetings with the WDEQ, the company and other officials, we were able to get water tanks installed and our cows and the wildlife are happily drinking from a fresh, abundant supply of good, clean water.
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We are telling you this in order for folks to understand that there are two sides of this water issue. We are the ranchers who like the water, it has greatly benefited our operation and we want to be able to continue to work with the companies to develop a good water system on our ranch. We met with a company last month who is starting development and they are concerned that at some point, they will not be able to install reservoirs because of increasing water quality standards, such as Ed is promoting in his editorial. That concerns us, because we are then limited in our ability to put this water to a good and beneficial use, not only for our cattle but for the wildlife who need a dependable water source in order to survive and thrive.
In Ed’s letter, he makes a statement about “an industry that’s making money hand over fist, and pouring revenues into the treasury for politicians to spend.” Now we ask you, is that a bad thing? This same industry is employing a number of our local young ranch people, enabling them to stay in our county, stay on our family ranches, and have a good off the farm income to do that with. The money that goes into the treasury for politicians to spend has enabled Campbell County to have probably the best county roads in the state, have infrastructure, facilities, and services that are the envy of the state, and has enabled the state of Wyoming to establish such things as the Hathaway scholarships which provide every student in the state with a scholarship to attend a Wyoming college, as well as set aside a good chunk of change into a permanent mineral trust fund for future generations.
Water issues have always divided folks, friends against friends, neighbors against neighbors, states against states, and are never easy issues to resolve. We must be very careful in asking for increasing regulations by the government because those tend to become one size fits all, and we lose our ability as private property owners and individuals to be able to manage resources to fit our individual operations and needs.