Coalbed Gas Exploration and Development on Federal and Other Lands in the West
Today coalbed gas is seen as an enormous resource — experts currently estimate coalbed gas reserves of 400 trillion cubic feet, the equivalent of total conventional gas reserves in the United States,3 and thousands of coalbed gas wells have been drilled.4 That evolution is undoubtedly one of the brightest spots in the oil and gas industry over the past decade.
In the western United States a critical player in that evolution has been the federal government. Technical works published in the 1970s by federal government scientists played an important role in changing the perception of coalbed gas from a hazard to be avoided to a valuable resource to be exploited.5 Tax policy, particularly the Section 29 tax credit, has significantly encouraged coalbed gas exploration and development.6 And in the public land states where title emanates from the federal government, where the federal government continues to own or control hundreds of millions of acres of land, and where other lands are surrounded by and developed in association with public lands, the federal government greatly influences who owns coalbed gas and how it is developed.7
II. THE “SOURCE ROCK” OF COALBED GAS IN THE WEST — THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT.
A. The Statutory Scheme.
A central theme in public land law is how change is wrought.8 Not infrequently critical lands and resources are withd
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