Supreme Court Enforces Clean Water Act


The Montana Supreme Court ruled this week that coal bed methane companies must treat water that they pump from underground before discharging it into Montana’s streams and rivers. The court also found that the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) violated the federal Clean Water Act and the Montana Water Quality Act by issuing methane discharge permits without requiring that the water be treated before release. Methane discharge water is considered a pollutant under the Clean Water Act because it is highly saline, and may degrade the water quality subsequently affecting aquatic life and irrigated agriculture.

The Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Northern Plains Resource Council, and Tongue River Water Users’ Association had challenged the DEQ and Fidelity Exploration and Production Company in 2007 over the untreated discharge of highly saline water. This water, if used by irrigators downstream, adversely affects crops.

“This was a 7-0 decision in which the Supreme Court finally saw the light as to how crucial it is that coal bed methane development is done right,” said Roger Muggli, manager of the Tongue & Yellowstone Irrigation District in Miles City. “It’s about time the Montana DEQ does its job. Now it’s up to Wyoming to also do its job.”

Wyoming currently allows methane companies to dump untreated methane water into tributaries and streams that flow into Montana.

The Supreme Court voided two of Fidelity’s discharge permits that Montana DEQ had issued. The DEQ has 90 days to re-evaluate Fidelity’s permits under standards of Clean Water Act and Montana Water Quality Act. Fidelity will be allowed to continue discharging untreated water during the 90-day period.

Coal bed methane is a form of natural gas in which underground water above coal seams is pumped to the surface. This release of pressure frees the methane gas, which then is piped to the surface.


Source: Northern Plains Resource Council

Posted by Kaci Switzer

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