Wyoming - Powder River Basin

State: Wyoming

Wyoming's Powder River Basin is experiencing the largest mineral boom in Wyoming history. Coalbed methane (CBM) gas development in the Powder River Basin has been characterized by industry as the "hottest natural gas play" in North America, making CBM development the greatest environmental and cultural threat Wyoming has faced in decades. This "gold rush" style pursuit of CBM is presenting enormous challenges for urban and rural citizens, ranchers and farmers, and impacted municipalities.

Unfortunately, coalbed methane extraction has significant detrimental consequences especially at the scale of development projected for the next 15 to 20 years of 50,000 to 120,000 wells. For up to two years of the well's initial operation, water must be pumped from the targeted coal seam at rates of up to 100 gallons per minute. Discharge of this water is causing extensive erosion and cases of irreversible soil damage from high salt and sodium in the discharge water.

Each coalbed methane well produces an average of 20 tons of salt per year. The quality of discharge water deteriorates substantially as one moves north, west and south of Gilette. Landowners need to know the discharge water quality, particularly the sodium adsorption rate (SAR) and their soil types.

Domestic and stock water wells are drying up or becoming contaminated with gas or other development-related constituents. Over 400 miles of power lines were constructed last year to serve the CBM wells and compressor stations, with over 400 miles projected for construction each year for the next 5 or 6 years. Compressor stations are often powered by jet engines whose noise shatters the solitude of rural living. Hundreds of semi-trucks and pickups driving to and from methane sites kick up clouds of dust, resulting in increased respiratory problems for livestock and humans.