Samuel S. Bacon


The Coalbed Methane ("CBM") industry is booming throughout the Rocky Mountain West, creating a relatively clean energy alternative, much needed jobs in the region, and a deluge of water pumped from the ground in connection with CBM capture. In order to free the valuable natural gas, companies must first pump out substantial quantities of subsurface water holding the pressurized gas in place. This water varies in quality, from perfectly useful, potable water to poor-quality water with the potential to destroy the surrounding environment. Correspondingly, disposal of the pumped water varies from simply releasing it into streams surrounding the CBM pads to reinjecting it back into subterranean aquifers. Most importantly, aside from the imprecise, general protections of the Clean Water Act, no current legal system covers this sizeable new source of water. This Comment advocates using the framework of the Clean Water Act to distinguish between poor- and high-quality water, with an emphasis on creating a comprehensive regional system to maximize the utility and profitability of the highquality water. More specifically, the Comment uses the Powder River Basin of Wyoming as a case-study to argue that states should implement a water bank or water storage system that collects high-quality water discharged from CBM wells and sells it on an open market. Profits from such water sales would first go towards paying infrastructure and operating costs, followed by a significant portion towards environmental restitution of the areas impacted by the CBM industry. The remaining profits would be returned to the CBM companies, providing an incentive to participate in the program and even clean some of the poor-quality water pre-viously reinjected in order to make that water eligible for the program. By establishing such a program, all parties involved in the CBM process stand to benefit, including the state, the energy companies, the environmentalists, and the residents forced to endure the negative externalities of CBM mining.