Study finds coal-bed methane production could foul water in Moffat County

A study being conducted by the Colorado Geological Survey (CGS) shows the very real potential for groundwater contamination by coal-bed methane production in the Sand Wash Basin area of Moffat County, according to the Craig Daily Press.

An unadorned coal bed

An unadorned coal bed

Coal-bed methane production involves extraction of gas from coal seams and is a much shallower form of natural gas production than deep-well drilling common in places like Garfield County. An ongoing survey by the CGS reveals deep faults connecting with coals seams in Moffat County that could communicate with groundwater supplies, according to the Daily Press.

CGS officials cautioned that their findings don’t preclude production but instead indicate any company trying to develop coal-bed methane in that area of northwestern Colorado should engage in extensive study of the potential impacts. Moffat and Routt counties are helping share the study’s $121,000 price tag.

In southern Colorado, particularly in Huerfano County, coal-bed methane production has led to dangerous buildup of the gas in some local drinking-water wells, prompting the city of Walsenburg to clarify that its municipal water supply is still safe.

And environmentally tougher Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission drilling rules that went into effect last spring specifically addressed concerns about coal-bed methane production and hydraulic fracturing – a drilling process that involves high-pressure injections of water, sand and undisclosed chemicals to fracture tight geologic formations and free up more gas.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, of wells for coal-bed methane can be problematic. COGCC executive director Dave Neslin said the state drafted new Rule 608 to deal specifically with that type of fracking.

There is no imminent coal-bed methane boom in Moffat County, according to the Daily Press, but county officials are trying to be proactive, drawing praise from the CGS. The last large-scale attempt was three years ago by a Michigan company in an area just outside of Lay, which is directly west of Craig.

Edit note: The original version of this piece included the following sentence: “Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, of wells for coal-bed methane can be problematic, prompting the state to draft Rule 608 to deal specifically with that type of fracking, according to COGCC executive director Dave Neslin.” But Neslin never said fracking for coal-bed methane can be problematic. Neslin only said new rules now govern that kind of fracking, as should be clear from the new version of the paragraph. The author conflated the two parts of the paragraph and regrets the error.

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About the Author

David O. Williams

is an award-winning reporter who has covered energy, environmental and political issues for years. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Denver Post. He's founder of Real Vail
and Real Aspen.

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