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Coalbed Methane and Water Rights: The Key Prerequisites

Holly Jo Franz, Regulation and Development of Coalbed Methane (2002)

The production of coal bed methane (CBM) is inextricably tied to water. In order to release the gas, the coal aquifer must be depressurized by pumping groundwater. The management of the produced groundwater is the key environmental issue to be addressed by regulators and CBM producers. Management of CBM produced groundwater raises both water quantity, which is the subject of this paper, and water quality concerns.

CBM producers must address several legal issues when addressing the water quantity concerns of handling produced water. Initially, they must determine if any water rights are necessary. Even if a water right is not needed to dewater the aquifer, the subsequent management of the produced water may be a beneficial use requiring a water right CBM producers must also be aware of any requirements to notify or enter into mitigation agreements with other water right owners. In the absence of such a requirement, producers will need to be familiar with applicable law on the protection of other water right owners.