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Environmental and Health Impacts on the Crow Reservation from Coalbed Methane

This page was written by Erin Klauk as part of the DLESE Community Services Project: Integrating Research in Education. Funding was provided in part by the Montana Office of Public Instruction .

Development of Coalbed Methane in the Powder River Basin.
Development of Coalbed Methane in the Powder River Basin. Details

On the surface, development of coalbed methane appears to offer the communities of the Powder River Basin, including the Crow Nation, a long-awaited economic advantage, but the long-term impacts to global warming, water resources of the area, fish and wildlife, and agriculture must be considered (Coalbed Methane: Short-term Boom, Long-term Bust (more info) ). As with the production of most natural resources, the development of coalbed methane is accompanied by significant environmental challenges, including prevention of the unintended loss of methane to the atmosphere during underground mining, and disposal of large quantities of water, sometimes saline, that are unavoidably produced with the gas (Coalbed Methane - An Untapped Energy Resource and an Environmental Concern (more info) ). Coalbed methane development is not without a number of environmental problems and human health hazards. Some of these impacts that are of concern include the disposal of water removed from coalbed methane wells, drinking water levels dropping, contamination of aquifers, venting and seeping of methane and other chemicals, underground fires, air pollution feeding to global warming, destruction of land and harm to wildlife, as well as further impacts on landowners (Coalbed Methane Development: Boon or Bane for Rural Residents? (more info) ).

Fortunately, these potential issues can be monitored and managed in order to reduce their impact, however, coalbed methane is fairly new, having only been developed as a resource for about 25 years. As seen with the uranium mining on the Navajo Nation, the extent of environmental and human health impacts are not always well known until the damage has been done. Environmental Impact Statements have been completed, and although they are being challenged, they at least remain a starting point. The EPA has also established a voluntary program to reduce methane emissions in the coal mining industry. This program, known as the Coalbed Methane Outreach Program (CMOP) helps the coal industry identify the technologies, markets, and finance sources to profitably use or sell the methane that coal mines would otherwise vent to the atmosphere (EPA - Sources and Emissions of Coalbed Methane).

With care, it seems that the environmental costs of coalbed methane can be reduced, however, questions remain about the detrimental effects that the removal of coalbed methane could have on the environment, especially the water, in the Rocky Mountain Region.

Aerial view of a Wyoming gas field. Details

Click here for more information about the effects of coalbed methane on the hydrology of the area.

To further investigate impacts from coalbed methane on the Crow Nation, follow the links below.

Investigate the Impacts from Coalbed Methane on the Crow Nation

Resources containing information about the impacts from coalbed methane on the Crow Nation.

  • Air Quality Appendix. This 33-page PDF is part of the final statewide oil and gas environmental impact statement and proposed amendment of the Powder River and Billings Resource Management Plans. This section is an air quality appendix for the Crow Reservation. Included is information about existing air quality, agency roles and authorities, air quality management on tribal lands, air quality impact assessment, modeling assumptions and results, and thresholds for triggering mitigation. (more info)
  • Coal-Bed Methane: Potential and Concerns. This USGS Fact Sheet serves as an introduction to coalbed methane. The two-page PDF document summarizes available coalbed methane resources, assessment methods, production methods, and environmental concerns. Also addressed is the need for further study of new methods used to recover this fuel. (more info)
  • Coal-bed Methane Gas Development in Montana, Some Biological Issues. This 11-page Department of Environmental Quality report discusses biological issues that are expected to occur from coalbed methane development in Montana. These issues include dewatering of local and regional aquifers; decreased surface water availability in some areas; increased surface water flows in areas receiving CBM discharges in other areas; water quality effects of CBM development discharges on waters and biota receiving the CBM discharges; and creation of significant surface disturbances from CBM facility and service road construction. (more info)
  • Coalbed Methane - An Untapped Energy Resource and an Environmental Concern. This USGS fact sheet discusses the environmental concerns of coalbed methane development. Topics include the concerns associated with water disposal, contribution of coal beds to atmospheric methane, the 1993 Climate Change Action Plan and the contamination of shallow aquifers from coalbed methane development. (more info)
  • Coalbed Methane Development: Boon or Bane for Rural Residents?. This 8-page PDF fact sheet provides information about coalbed methane including what it is, where it is found, how it is developed, problems associated with development, why it is being developed, and what laws and regulation govern development. (more info)
  • Coalbed Methane: Short-term Boom, Long-term Bust. This 2-page PDF fact sheet briefly describes the resource coalbed methane, and provides lists of (1) facts pertaining to the results from coalbed methane development, (2) reducing wildlife impacts, and (3) the key players in coalbed methane development. (more info)
  • Crow Indian Tribe: Air Quality Resources Report. This 3-page PDF is part of the final statewide oil and gas environmental impact statement and proposed amendment of the Powder River and Billings Resource Management Plans. This section describes the air quality of the Crow Reservation. (more info)
  • Field Conference on Impacts of Coalbed Methane Development in the Powder River Basin, Wyoming: Impacts and Issues of CBM Development. This resource is a section of a larger work from a field conference that was held on the impacts of coalbed methane development in the Powder River Basin, WY. Impacts and issues from coalbed methane development including dewatering the coal beds causing groundwater drawdown resulting from lowering of the water table, the effect of surface disposal of co-produced water and the effect of this additional water on watersheds, and the effect of the water composition on soils. (more info)
  • Final Statewide Oil and Gas EIS and Proposed Amendment of the Powder River and Billings RMPs. This Environmental Impact Statement documents and discloses the results of the environmental analysis of anticipated coal bed methane and oil and gas development in the state of Montana. The extensive PDF document is intended to provide full and fair discussion of significant environmental impacts, and shall inform decision makers and the public of reasonable alternatives which would avoid or minimize adverse impacts or enhance the quality of the human environment. The summary version, a 31 page PDF file, should probably be viewed first, followed by a more thorough investigation of the full document if necessary. (more info)
  • Final Statewide Oil and Gas Environmental Impact Statement and Proposed Amendment of the Powder River and Billings Resource Management Plans. This resource contains links to each section of the final statewide oil and gas environmental impact statement and proposed amendment of the Powder River and Billings Resource Management Plans. Included is information about the purpose of and need for action, affected environment and environmental consequences of CBM development. Also included are links to technical support documents, as well as a set of detailed appendices for further information about air quality, hydrology, minerals, monitoring, socioeconomics, soils, solid/hazardous waste, vegetation and wildlife. (more info)
  • Final Statewide Oil and Gas Environmental Impact Statement and Proposed Amendment of the Powder River and Billings Resource Management Plans: Crow Tribe Narrative Report. This resource contains links to each section of the Crow tribe narrative report contained in the final statewide oil and gas environmental impact statement and proposed amendment of the Powder River and Billings Resource Management Plans. Included is are links to information about the Crow tribal government, Indian trust assets, land use and realty, socio-economics, economy, air quality, culture and history, geology and minerals, hydrology, soils, vegetation, wildlife, facilities, services and recreation. (more info)
  • Monitoring Appendix. This 22-page PDF is part of the final statewide oil and gas environmental impact statement and proposed amendment of the Powder River and Billings Resource Management Plans. This section is a monitoring appendix for the Crow Reservation. Included is a table illustrating all resources that are monitored, their location, the technique used to monitor them, the unit of measurement, frequency and duration of monitoring, remedial action triggers and management options. Also included is a report on the regional-scale monitoring of the potential effects of coalbed methane development on water resources. (more info)
  • Oil and Gas - Coalbed Methane: Environmental Considerations. The goal of this site is to present information and links to information on environmental considerations associated with coalbed natural gas development (CBNG) nationwide. The emphasis is on water co-produced with CBNG, but other environmental considerations are also presented. The USGS Energy Resource Team assessment of existing and potential CBNG development in the United States is accessible via this website as well. The website includes a page providing general information regarding CBNG environmental considerations, especially co-produced waters, as well as state-and basin-specific information and links. (more info)
  • Solid and Hazardous Waste Appendix. This 9-page PDF is part of the final statewide oil and gas environmental impact statement and proposed amendment of the Powder River and Billings Resource Management Plans. This section is a solid and hazardous waste appendix for the Crow Reservation. Included is the 1999 toxics release inventory for Montana. (more info)
  • The Powder River Basin Resource Council's (PRBRC) Protest and Comments on Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). This protest and comments on the Final Environmental Impact Statement and Proposed Plan Amendment for the Powder River Basin Oil and Gas Project (FEIS) presents the idea that the BLM failed to reveal the full extent of impacts to the people, land, water and air resources in the Powder River Basin. This PRBRC document includes detailed descriptions of the 14 points that are being protested. (more info)
  • Wyoming Coalbed Methane Leases Ruled Illegal. This Environmental News Service article discusses the Department of Interior Board of Land Appeals 2002 ruling that coalbed methane leases are illegal because they were issued by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) without proper analysis of coalbed methane's unique impacts. (more info)



For ideas on how to use these webpages in a classroom, a Study Guide is provided.




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