. "5 Environmental Effects of Coalbed Methane Development and Produced Water Management." Management and Effects of Coalbed Methane Produced Water in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2010.
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Management and Effects of Coalbed Methane Produced Water in the Western United States
CBM produced water in surface impoundments. These effects and their potential causes are addressed below. Although adverse effects from hydraulic fracturing have not been documented in CBM fields, the issue is of concern to the public. A brief discussion of hydraulic fracturing is included at the end of this section.
Effects of Groundwater Withdrawal on Aquifers
Research demonstrates that a principal effect of CBM withdrawals on groundwater is reduction of water volume and hydrostatic head within coalbeds from which methane is being extracted. Typically, the CBM well is pumped to reduce the hydrostatic pressure in the coalbed to a pressure approximately equal to atmospheric. However, water is still retained within the coal and generally the head level of water in the coalbed is maintained relatively close to the uppermost physical surface of the coalbed. Any effects of water withdrawal from methane-bearing coalbeds on water levels in other aquifers are a function of the depth of the target coalbeds and the degree of hydraulic connection between CBM targets and the other local or regional aquifers (see Chapter 2 for discussion of hydraulic connectivity).
Pumping water during CBM extraction in basins with deep methane-bearing coals, such as the San Juan, Raton, Uinta, and Piceance basins, is unlikely to cause lowering of the water table of shallow alluvial aquifers because of lack of hydraulic connectivity between the deep coals and shallow aquifers coupled with the great vertical separation between the coalbeds and the shallow groundwater systems (upward of thousands of feet; see also Chapter 2). Typically, methane-bearing coalbeds in these basins are bounded above and below by either aquitards or aquicludes (see Chapter 2) that are responsible for both the positive hydrostatic pressure within the coalbeds and the lack of hydraulic connectivity or communication between the coalbeds and overlying and underlying aquifers. An exception to this circumstance is that reported by Riese et al. (2005) for the San Juan Basin, in which the authors documented movement of water from below the methane-bearing coalbeds upward and into the coalbeds (see Chapter 2).
In contrast, depths to methane-bearing coalbeds in the Powder River Basin are relatively shallow and less consolidated than those of the other western CBM basins (see Chapter 2). Consequently, the coalbeds generally consist of porous and permeable formations capable of releasing large amounts of water during methane production (see Table 2.1). Some of the coalbeds or fringes of coalbeds in the Powder River Basin are also sufficiently close to the land surface that they serve as sources of domestic, residential, wildlife, and livestock water supply (Frost et al., 2010; Wheaton et al., 2005; Campbell et al., 2008). These supplies often surface as flowing springs and wells. In some instances wells are drilled into the coalbeds and the water is used for stock watering or domestic supplies. However, direct physical connections between water-bearing coalbed aquifers from which CBM is being extracted and other alluvial groundwater that supplies water wells and springs in the basin are not widely