Published March 1, 2006 | March 2006 issue
Last summer, the Montana Board of Environmental Review agreed to consider new regulations designed to curb water pollution from coal bed methane production. Now it must consider the additional costs those rules would impose on a growing industry in the state. Separate federal and state economic analyses released in January say that cracking down on pollution could hamper CBM development.
The proposed rules would require that saline water pumped out of aquifers to extract natural gas from coal seams be injected back into the ground. If that's infeasible, water would have to be treated before being discharged onto the surface.
An economic impact study by the state Department of Environmental Quality reported that the rule changes could cost the industry as much as $1.5 billion over the next 30 years, cutting producer profits and discouraging further expansion in the state. Another report by the U.S. Department of Energy concluded that stricter water-quality rules would lower domestic gas production and government tax receipts.
On the other hand, the studies conceded, tighter regulation would reduce the risk of water and soil pollution. The state report noted that the proposed rule could ensure that future generations have access to clean well water.