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by Rebecca Clarren GARFIELD COUNTY , Colorado — Arnold Mackley is a patient man. For nearly 40 years, he cooperated with oil and gas companies that drilled 11 methane gas wells on his 263-acre ranch near Rifle. He cooperated, he explains, because he’s a mining consultant and believes in the development of natural resources. So when the oil and gas companies cleared dirt roads on his property and created traffic, noise and dust, he didn’t complain. When a gas company left a deep pit on his land, he cleaned it up. When a gas well exploded, when 300-year-old trees were logged, and when his water well was contaminated with methane, he worked it out quietly with the gas companies. But things are different now, he says, and the underlying economics of his town and western Colorado have changed; natural resources no longer rule. Mackley, changing with the times, wants to turn his ranch into an attractive bed and breakfast, but stepped-up gas drilling is in his way. Across the country, rights to any surface property and to the minerals underneath it can be split. When Mackley leased his mineral rights in the late 1960s, he gave up Coalbed Methane [ CBM ] in the Yukon? by CPAWS-Yukon. Visit www.cpawsyukon.org. Email: info@cpawsyukon.org. Phone: 867.393.8080 x. 3. Excerpts from High Country News reprinted with permission. Methane gas wells at a 20-acre-spacing test area along I-70 near Rifle, Colorado (Rebecca Clarren photo) What is Coalbed Met hane [CBM] and how is it ex tracted? — Read on. What does Coalbed Methane development look like on the land? — Look on. Have we ever had this kind of development activity in the Yukon before? In the North? — No. Do we know its impacts? ... in the North? ... with permafrost? ... in hard-to-reach, pristine places? — No. Do we have any laws or regulations for Coalbed Methane [CBM]? — No. What are the risks and dangers to the health of humans, wildlife, land and water? — Read on. Do we want Coalbed Methane [CBM] extraction in the Yukon? — That’s for you to decide. the power to determine where gas wells could be drilled on his ranch and how many of them there could be. Almost 40 years ago, gas companies were allowed to drill one well every 640 acres. On Mackley’s property, that meant just one well. In the last four decades, Colorado repeatedly liberalized that rule to allow one well every 320 acres, 160 acres, and then 40 acres. Now, one gas company, Barrett Resources, says 20-acre spacing should be permitted. Since each well requires up to 5 acres for a road, gravel pad and pipeline, more than a quarter of Mackley’s land could be eaten up with gas development. While some ranchers say they want methane wells on their property because oil and gas companies pay rent, Mackley says the $30 he gets “on a good month” isn’t fair compensation. “If we have gas wells every 20 acres, we’re not going to have any quality growth,” says Mackley. “Who’s going to want to live among gas wells? Our property values are going to decline.” Across the state, land developers and homeowners echo his concern. Mackley says, with softspoken rage, that he is a prime example of how little power surface owners have in the face of oil and gas development. Out of Control RELUCTAN T REFORMER: Arnold Mackley stands near a methane gas rig on his ranch in Rifle. (Christopher To mlinson photo) Newly bulldozed coalbed methane well site. They average 4-5 acres each. (Gail Blinkly photo)
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Coalbed Methane Primer

Apr 09, 2018

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  • 8/8/2019 Coalbed Methane Primer

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    by Rebecca Clarren

    GARFIELD COUNTY, Colorado ArnoldMackley is a patient man. For nearly 40years, he cooperated with oil and gascompanies that drilled 11 methane gas wellson his 263-acre ranch near Rifle. Hecooperated, he explains, because hes amining consultant and believes in the

    development of natural resources.So when the oil and gas companies cleareddirt roads on his property and created traffic,noise and dust, he didnt complain. When agas company left a deep pit on his land, hecleaned it up. When a gas well exploded,when 300-year-old trees were logged, andwhen his water well was contaminated withmethane, he worked it out quietly with the gascompanies. But things are different now, hesays, and the underlying economics of histown and western Colorado have changed;natural resources no longer rule. Mackley,changing with the times, wants to turn hisranch into an attractive bed and breakfast, butstepped-up gas drilling is in his way.

    Across the country, rights to any surfaceproperty and to the minerals underneath itcan be split. When Mackley leased hismineral rights in the late 1960s, he gave up

    CoalbedMethane[CBM]in the Yukon?by CPAWS-Yukon. Visit www.cpawsyukon.org.Email: info@cpawsyukon.org. Phone: 867.393.8080 x. 3.Excerpts from High Country News reprinted withpermission.

    Methane gas wells at a 20-acre-spacing test area along I-70 nearRifle, Colorado (Rebecca Clarren photo)

    What is Coalbed Methane [CBM] and how is it extracted? Read on.

    What does Coalbed Methane development look like on the land? Look on.

    Have we ever had this kind of development activity in the Yukon before? In the North? No.

    Do we know its impacts? ... in the North? ... with permafrost? ... in hard-to-reach, pristine places? No.

    Do we have any laws or regulations for Coalbed Methane [CBM]? No.

    What are the risks and dangers to the health of humans, wildlife, land and water? Read on.

    Do we want Coalbed Methane [CBM] extraction in the Yukon? Thats for you to decide.

    the power to determine where gas wellscould be drilled on his ranch and how manyof them there could be. Almost 40 yearsago, gas companies were allowed to drillone well every 640 acres. On Mackleysproperty, that meant just one well.

    In the last four decades, Coloradorepeatedly liberalized that rule to allow onewell every 320 acres, 160 acres, and then40 acres. Now, one gas company, BarrettResources, says 20-acre spacing should bepermitted. Since each well requires up to 5acres for a road, gravel pad and pipeline,more than a quarter of Mackleys land couldbe eaten up with gas development. Whilesome ranchers say they want methane wellson their property because oil and gascompanies pay rent, Mackley says the $30he gets on a good month isnt faircompensation.

    If we have gas wells every 20 acres, werenot going to have any quality growth, saysMackley. Whos going to want to liveamong gas wells? Our property values aregoing to decline.

    Across the state, land developers andhomeowners echo his concern.

    Mackley says, with softspoken rage, that heis a prime example of how little powersurface owners have in the face of oil andgas development.

    Out of Control

    RELUCTANT REFORMER: Arnold Mackleystands near a methane gas rig on his ranch inRifle. (Christopher Tomlinson photo)

    Newly bulldozed coalbed methane well site. Theyaverage 4-5 acres each. (Gail Blinkly photo)

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    NOISY NEIGHBOR: Development abuts homes (Oil & Gas Accountability Project)

    Oil wells in my backyard?Residents say industry is drivingpeople and wildlife away

    by Rebecca Clarren

    DURANGO, CO. Well, in the late 1980sthe kids started lighting the lemonade onfire, so I knew something was going on,says Carl Weston, a resident ofsouthwestern Colorados La Plata County.

    Something was going on miles away atRandy Ferris house too, where his tapwater emerged looking like milk and fizzinglike Alka-Seltzer.

    Both men were outraged when they learnedthe cause of their troubles: gas companieswere drilling a coal bed rich in methane,causing the gas to seep out of the groundand into water and homes. Ferris says thisis because the industry was careless.

    Although the lemonade no longer burns andmost methane seeps are under control,Durango locals say the industry can stillmake life miserable. On a recent tour of thearea, Gwen Lachelt, director of the SanJuan Citizens Alliance, points out boarded-

    up houses and valleys where elk no longerroam. A booming oil and gas industry led tothe exodus of people and wildlife.

    This is considered a national sacrifice areaby industry because its rural, unpopulatedand rich in resources, she says.

    The problem has its roots in seniority beinggiven to mineral-rights over surface rights,enabling companies like Amoco to set upnoisy drilling rigs in peoples backyards andeven site an oil well by an elementary school.

    Now, Lachelts alliance wants a moratoriumplaced on gas development in Colorado,

    until the state studies the overall impacts ofmethane drilling. Her organization has been joined by other citizens groups and countycommissioners around the state that feeloutgunned by a powerful industry. Together,these groups have targeted the Oil and GasConservation Commission for reform.

    La Plata isnt the only county of Coloradobeset by oil and gas development. JaneyHines of Parachute says the sheer numberof drilling rigs are causing plants and cropsin Garfield County to fail, and in southeastColorados Las Animas County, localMarianne Reid says benzene, a proven

    carcinogen, has been found in unsealedevaporation ponds left by drillers in ablatant breaking of clean-water act rules.

    By Robyn Morrison

    HOTCHKISS, CO. Not a drop of waterruns off of this place, says Steve Ela,looking over his 112-acre orchard wheretiny sprinklers mist beneath a canopy of

    apple trees. The irrigation system is asefficient as it gets but even so, westernColorados ditches are running nearly dry.

    But a plan by Denver-based GunnisonEnergy Corp. to drill five coalbed methanewells on the highlands above the orchardhas Ela worried about more than drought. Ifsuccessful, the project could punch morethan 600 methane wells on 96,000 acres ofprivate and U.S. Forest Service lands alongthe south flank of 11,000-foot Grand Mesa,where snowmelt gathers and flows downthrough lower mesas to the Gunnison River.

    Ela worries that fracturing the coal seams

    and pumping out groundwater the methodused to extract methane could dry upaquifers and drain away water that residentsdepend on for drinking and irrigation. Andlike many others in this rural valley, Ela hasturned to local government leaders for help.

    More comfortable with approving salvageyards and gravel pits than with passingregulations, the Delta County Board ofCommissioners imposed a nine monthmoratorium on oil and gas projects beyondthe five test wells, then voted 2-1 to denyfour of the test wells, and tagged 33conditions to the approval of the fifth.

    Delta County remains one of the poorest inthe state. Politically conservative, with nozoning and only bare-bones land-useregulations, it also has a hundred-year

    history of coal mining. Today, three minesship 15 million tons of coal annually.

    But the mining here is underground, whilemethane development would be painfullyvisible. Fears of polluted water, noisypumps and a maze of roads and pipelinesgalvanized hundreds of residents fromdreadlocked communal farmers to formerenergy industry executives.

    Were aligned with strange bedfellows,said Larry Jensen, a former mine engineerturned rancher who owns grazing land nearone of the proposed well sites. But we allhave a common goal. Even the countyBoard of Realtors joined the opposition.More than anything, red flags raised by aformer oil and gas industry geologist, GregLazear, became the rallying point. Thereare too many unknowns about how themethane wells might impact water, saysLazear, who submitted his own reports to thecommissioners to counter company reports.We have to understand what were getting

    into before we mess with the system.As the county commissioners said the daythey voted to deny four of the five wells,Water is the most crucial issue.

    Water Rights

    Coalbed methane in the backyard.

    Troubled Waters

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    SCARS: Energy workers dig a trench for gas and water pipelines on the Sorensonfamily homestead in the Powder River Basin (Kevin Moloney photo)

    Tumbledown fencing fails to separate peopleand wildlife from Shell Canada's open, unlinedwaste pit for coalbed methane drill waste(Casey Brennan photo)

    B.C. Mess-AroundAlberta Beefs

    Yukon Concerns

    Shell Canada Quits Messy andFruitless Coalbed MethaneExploration in Crowsnest CoalfieldThe recent history of coalbed methane inthe B.C. Rockies is one of governmentlaxity and corporate disregard for impactson wildlife and wildlands, said CaseyBrennan, energy and mining programmanger for Wildsight.

    We are relieved by Shells departure, butregret the damage that was done by thecompanys fruitless efforts, said Brennan.

    While we accept that Shell used bestmanagement practices for the industry andcomplied with provincial regulations, wedocumented numerous significant impactsfrom drilling, Brennan continued.

    An open and unlined pit for the disposal ofdrill cuttings, failed attempts to mitigateerosion, a substantial landslide, and Shellsdecision to drill in the narrow valley bottomof Michel Creek were all evidence of theunacceptable sacrifices this industryimposes on our sensitive ecosystem.

    Since an oil and gas company begandrilling for coalbed methane gas near herhome in southern Alberta three years ago,Jessica Ernst has seen her tapwater gofrom drinkable to flammable.

    Ernst first became worried about her wellwater when her taps started to whistle.

    The water turned cloudy. And then itbegan to fizz and smoke whenever shepoured a glass.

    Now she can set her tapwater on firebecause it contains so much methane, ahighly combustible and deadly gas.

    Shes developed rashes from showeringand using the water to do her laundry.

    Its hard to believe you are beingpoisoned by your own water, says Ernst,who lives in the middle of a major coalbedmethane development.

    She now cant drink her well water andrequires water delivery by the AlbertaGovernment.

    It only takes 1 mg/L of methane, or 1 part permillion, for water to be a risk for explosion.Ernsts well contains over 55,800 ppm.

    CBM is not like conventional natural gas

    extraction, adds Ernst.The big difference is the intensity of drilling,the magnitude of the developments involvedand the repeat entry onto the land.

    And though CBM exploration anddevelopment is supposed to be regulated bythe province, the regulations are largelyignored, she says.

    When reports of regulations being ignoredare presented to the regulator, they look theother way. So not only are the regulationsbeing ignored by the companies, they are notbeing enforced by the regulators.

    We have to understand what were getting into before we mess with the system.

    EXTREME AND CONSTANT NOISE a major concernof Jessica Ernst, an oil and gas consultant in Albertawho finds herself living in a major CBM development.

    Coalbed methane (CBM) explorationand development are being proposedfor the Yukon. The Yukon has no

    experience of, or regulations for, CBM.Methane is a primary constituent of naturalgas. It is also present in most coal deposits.

    Coalbed methane is trapped undergroundin beds of coal by the pressure of wateralso trapped in the beds of coal.

    The water must be pumped off to allow themethane to escape from the coals. Thisoften contaminates the water with salts,benzene and toluene.

    Even if water is not contaminated, suchlarge volumes can lead to heavy erosion of

    streams, lakes and rivers, particularly inpermafrost areas. In the Yukon, there isextensive and continuous permafrost. Thispresents ecologic and economic problems.

    Release of relatively warm water from CBMwells can have severe impacts on aquaticecology and permafrost integrity.

    The CBM extraction process involves manyof the stages of any oil and gas extractionbut also differs in some important ways.

    With oil and gas, single gas wells can beprofitably developed. Stand-alone CBMwells are almost never profitable. It oftentakes hundreds of wells to effectivelydewater the coals and produce enough gasto be economical.

    This means more wells per area with eachwell connected by pipelines and/or roads towater disposals sites like injection wells orevaporation ponds.

    How much water are we talking about?More than Whitehorse uses in a year.

    In Wyomings Powder River Basin, whereCBM development is happening on a scalelike that proposed for the Yukon, gas wellspump out 1.6 million barrels of water a day,365 days a year, for years.

    Some is atomized or sprayed in a fine mistover the land. Some is injected backunderground or collected in evaporation pitswhich can burst or overflow.

    There has been no CBM development innorthern Canada, so little is known aboutshort- and long-term impacts or how to dealwith them. Information gaps are gaping andbaseline studies are lacking.

    Larger than Life

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    Rancher checks a water-belching well for contamination by methane gas (Kevin Moloney photo)

    Unnatural DisasterCoalbed Methane pollutes water, scars the earth and steals away control of the landby Hal Clifford

    Bigger than Vermont and New Hampshirecombined, the 20,000-square-milePowder River Basin spreads east fromthe Bighorn Mountains to Thunder BasinNational Grassland and laps north acrossthe border into Montana.

    The entire basin is underlaid by multiplecoal seams in the rough shape of a bowl. Inthe center, around the broken hills of thePowder River Breaks, the seams are 1,200feet deep and join to form a massive coaldeposit known as Big George.

    As of mid-August 2001, private companieshad drilled 10,538 coalbed methane wells inthe Powder River Basin, with projections of139,000 wells, one every 80 acres, toessentially cover the entire basin.

    Coalbed methane critics recite a litany ofproblems with the technology. Drilling acoalbed methane well typically disturbs fouracres on each 80-acre parcel. Noisy wellpumps and compressor stations spewnitrous oxide and other pollutants into theair. Wyoming officials acknowledge many ofthese emissions are unregulated and mayviolate air quality standards. Heavy vehicletraffic damages roads and throws up dust.

    But water disposal is the big problem. Water

    is removed from underground to free thegas to flow to the surface. As of March2002, well operators in the basin werepumping 1.85 billion gallons of water to thesurface every day, causing an ironicproblem: how to dispose of water in an aridlandscape. In many places, the wastewatercontains sodium, calcium, magnesium andbenzene, and cannot be used for irrigationor dumped in waterways.

    Once coal deposits are dewatered, saysWalter Merschat, president of ScientificGeochemical Services in Casper, gasmigrates to the surface in any direction itcan, not just up well bores. It is odorless,colorless, tasteless. It can accumulate inbuildings. The potential result? Boom!says Merschat, throwing up his hands.

    A more mundane but widespread problemis salt. The state of Montana is worried aboutelevated salt levels from coalbed methanewater in the Powder, Little Powder and BelleFourche rivers, which flow from Wyoming.

    Then theres how coalbed methane fieldslook. Each well pad contains up to fivewells, one for each distinct coal seam.Structures the size of garden sheds shelterthe wellheads. A road leads to each pad,along with a gas-collection pipeline, awater-disposal pipeline and a power line.Every few hundred acres, larger buildingshouse truck-size compressors to pressurizethe gas for transport.

    Aquifer depletion: because of the largenumber of wells involved, CBM extractioncan deplete entire aquifers which can:cause loss of ponds, seeps and springs;alter stream and lake characteristics; causeland and rockslides; alter what trees, shrubs

    and other plants can grow; and, increasethe likelihood of dewatered coal bedscatching fire underground.

    Flaring and venting: flaring is the burningof gases released during drilling, wellstimulation, pipeline maintenance and gasprocessing. Venting is the release of gasinto the atmoshere when there is notenough to economically warrant capturing it.

    Both release huge qauntities of greenhousegases associated with global climatechange. Flaring can be loud and a potentialfire hazard. Both venting and flaring canrelease hazardous gases.

    Infrastructure: in addition to well sites,CBM development involves compressorstations, gas treatment plants, work campsand maintenance yards. All can lead to

    Terms of Endearment

    contamination of water and soil from leaksand spills of harmful lubricants and fluids.

    Methane migration and seepage: whenshallow coal seam aquifers are pumped,methane will travel underground to areas oflow pressure, primarily the gas wells. But if

    there are other areas of low pressure,methane will move towards them. This canlead to contaminated water wells and soils,causing trees, plants and wildlife to die.

    Noise and dust: drilling and associatedprocesses produce periods of jet-engine-level concentrated large-engine noise fordrilling and stimulation. Once wells areoperational, they may require water-pumping and compressor equipment tooperate continuously for the life of the field.Compressors can produce high levels oflow-frequency noise, which is often feltrather than heard with physical, emotionaland psychological impacts on people andwildlife. Noise and dust are created throughconstruction of well pads and roads. CBM isan industrial activity that covers a largearea, so it requires the steady movement ofequipment and trucks. This affects air quality.

    Permafrost: of primary concern in the PeelWatershed where the permafrost reachesgreat depth and is continuous. Disruptioncan have lasting impacts on land and water.

    Roads, seismic and pipelines: all threecan physically disrupt the movement ofanimals like caribou, moose, sheep andbears. Roads create barrier effects onwildlife movement. Roads open new areasto hunting and recreation. Pipelines caninterfere with seasonal migrations and thefree movement of wildlife. This is especiallydocumented with caribou and moose.

    The prospect of energy ranchettesblanketing the Powder River Basin horrifiesmany who live here.

    This will turn into an industrial site, saysDale Ackels, a 60-year-old retired Armyofficer who raises hay on 100 acres along

    Lower Prairie Dog and is surrounded bywells. And with the way the state hasallowed it, theres no way to stop it.