A project that proposes setting fire to deep coal seams in order to produce fuel is moving forward. At a hearing last week, the Environmental Quality Council rejected arguments that Linc Energy’s proposed underground coal gasification project would contaminate drinking water supplies in Campbell County. But as Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce reports, concerns linger about the safety of the technology.
The Wyoming Supreme Court heard a case Wednesday challenging the state’s process for exempting fracking chemicals from public disclosure. Wyoming was the first state in the nation to adopt a disclosure law, but it included what some say is a massive loophole: companies can petition for what’s called a trade secret exemption. They’ve done that more than a hundred times since the law went into effect in 2010.
On Tuesday, Wyoming joined the growing list of states that will require groundwater testing at oil and gas wells before and after drilling occurs. The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission voted to require three rounds of testing at water wells within a half-mile of the drilling pad.
Companies will have to test for a variety of potential contaminants in the water, from volatile organic compounds to bacteria. In comments following the vote, Governor Matt Mead praised his fellow commissioners for approving the rules.
Current regulations are inadequate for monitoring and controlling oil and gas development, according to a new report from a coalition of western resource councils. In particular, the report focuses on the potential problems surrounding treatment and disposal of produced water, the contaminated water that's pulled up along with oil in the drilling process.
A study found that if wastewater were injected into a deep portion of the Madison Aquifer, it could potentially contaminate drinking water supplies in other areas.
Encana Oil and Gas has asked for permission to dispose of brine and drilling waste in the aquifer. The company says it would inject the waste into an area where water quality is already poor and which is so deep that it would be an impractical source for drinking water, regardless.
A coalition of Wyoming groups has filed a rulemaking petition to the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to address oil and gas development in the state.
The petition focuses on three main issues: increasing the setback of drilling rigs from homes, schools and businesses, adequate enforcement in the case of accidents and spills…and reducing the practice of flaring. Powder River Basin Resource Council’s Jill Morrison says flaring has been a recognized problem for some time.
A report by the Western Organization of Resource Councils says the oil and gas industry is using at least seven billion gallons of water per year in just four states: Colorado, Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota. The report says after industry is done with that water, it turns into a hazardous material, and in some cases cannot be reused for other purposes.
Powder River Basin Resource Council member Robert LeResche says he’s also worried about states’ lack of regulations regarding the quantity of water used.
The Western Organization of Resource Councils says inspections of active oil and gas wells in the West are falling behind the industry’s quick growth. The new report says the number of active oil and gas wells in Wyoming has risen from about 16,400 in 1999 to more than 37,000 in 2011. The number of inspectors increased from 6 to 12 in the same time period. Each inspector was responsible for more than 3,000 wells in 2011.
Powder River Basin Resource Council Board Chairman John Fenton says that spreads each inspector thin.
The Powder River Basin Resource Council has drawn up a list of recommendations to protect groundwater resources during energy production.
The group’s Jill Morrison says they want the state to document how much water is available in aquifers, and to limit how much water can be used for oil and gas production in certain areas where water resources are scarce.
“Because we know, for example, in the Powder River Basin, we’ve really drawn down our main aquifer that supplies domestic use … through the coalbed methane development,” Morrison said.
A federal district court judge in Washington, D.C. ruled against several conservation groups, who had challenged the BLM over new coal leases in the Powder River Basin.
The leases would let Cloud Peak Energy mine more than 400-million tons of coal. Shannon Anderson with the Powder River Basin Resource Council says her group opposes the plan because they feel coal companies haven’t been doing adequate reclamation of mines.
Two Wyoming conversation groups have joined others in suing to protect the Fortification Creek area of the Powder River Basin from natural gas development.
The Wyoming Outdoor Council and Powder River Basic Resource Council complain that the Bureau of Land Management approved a plan to allow coalbed methane development in an area that was previously protected from energy development.
Retired B-L-M Wildlife Biologist Larry Gerard says the move surprised him because the area is filled with wildlife.
Residents of the town of Pavillion say a company called Legacy Reserves LP has entered an agreement to purchase natural gas properties in the area from the current owner, Encana.
Representatives from Legacy Reserves did not return calls to confirm the sale, but according to their website, the Midland, Texas-based company will purchase several properties in Freemont County, where Pavillion is located, for 45-million dollars.