Methane Affects Producers Down Stream


Farmers using water from two irrigation districts in southeastern Montana have been warned to water crops at their own risk because of highly saline water from coal bed methane water discharges.

The notice affects about 300 irrigators with the Tongue and Yellowstone Irrigation District and 75 members of the Tongue River Water Users’ Association.

An ad that ran in the Miles City Star last week states, “This spring the Electrical Conductivity (EC) of the water in Tongue River is extremely high. Irrigation at this time with this poor quality water may cause damage to soils and salt sensitive plants.”

“We told the irrigators to use their own discretion,” said Art Hayes Jr., TRWU manager who placed the ad. “The cumulative effects of coal bed methane groundwater that is discharged on the surface and flows into the Tongue River have raised the electrical conductivity of the water.”

Electrical conductivity is the measure of salts in the water. Too high of an amount can damage certain soils and plants, said Hayes, citing EC numbers twice as high as the non-degradation standards set by Montana and higher than the standards for EC for coal bed methane permits. Water is pumped out of coal seams to release methane gas that companies convert to natural gas.

“It’s a low water year and the Tongue River drainage is not going to have enough good water to dilute the discharges released from coal bed methane development,” said Hayes. He said this is the first year he has had to issue such a notice to irrigators.

The Miles City Star reported on April 22: (See attachments for the entire Miles City Star article and the advertisement)

Some local farmers have reacted with frustration to the release of the most recent update of the Tongue River Information Program, which suggests area agriculture is unaffected by irrigation with coalbed methane discharge water.

The program, a seven-year study of soils and crops at 14 sites along the Tongue River, was initiated by Fidelity Exploration and Production Company in 2003 as the Tongue River Agronomic Monitoring and Protection Program, to address concerns of local producers about the potential effects of CBM water, especially on irrigated land. Since 2006 the project has been funded by the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation, a regulatory board attached to the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.

The report has been heavily criticized by scientists and agriculturalists who say the TRIP is biased because it was initiated by the coalbed methane development industry.

Roger Muggli, secretary of the T&Y Irrigation District and a third-generation farmer, believes the study is flawed.

Electrical conductivity levels in the Tongue River, used to measure salinity, have nearly tripled since 2002, Muggli said, largely due to the influence of CBM discharge water. Less than a decade ago, EC measured at the T&Y Diversion Dam near Miles City ranged from 300-450 µS/cm, while today water at the dam has an EC of 1120 µS/cm.

“And the industry sits there and tells everyone it’s not different than it used to be. How can you sit there and tell people there’s no difference in the water quality when there clearly is?” Muggli asked.

The study also makes inadequate examination of certain sensitive soils, Muggli said.

A Wyoming State Geological Survey states that more than 250 billion gallons of groundwater have been pumped to the surface in the Powder River Basin since coal bed methane development began in the 1990s.

“That water has been of little beneficial use to anyone,” says Muggli.


Source: Northern Plains Resource Council

Posted by Kaci Switzer

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