Energy company gets tentative OK for coal-bed methane injection wells

Energy company gets tentative OK for coal-bed methane injection wells

An energy company has tentative state approval to drill two injection wells for a pioneering step in Montana’s emerging coal-bed methane industry: Water brought forth in the extraction of coal-bed methane would be sent back into the ground.

The Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation on Thursday approved conditionally two injection wells for Wyoming-based Pinnacle Gas Resources Inc. Pinnacle initially sought permits for four wells, but said weather disrupted plans for one and the other is unnecessary.

What happens to the water from coal-bed methane extraction is a concern for farmers and others because often the water is so salty that it can harm the soil and plants. Managing the water is one of the biggest issues surrounding Montana coal-bed methane development in the Powder River Basin, which spans the state’s border with Wyoming and is rich with coal and gas.

Conservation groups maintain that injecting the water is the best alternative. The coal-bed methane industry generally has not favored re-injection because of technical considerations and expense.

The board’s approval Thursday is conditional because public notice of the Pinnacle project fell two days short of the mandatory 30 days. Absent protests within two days of the decision, it will become final.

Pinnacle would be the first natural gas producer to try injecting its coal-bed methane discharge water into the Montana portion of the Powder River Basin.

The two injection wells are in addition to three for which Pinnacle received Board of Oil and Gas Conservation approval in December. Results of testing on those three wells appear ”very promising,” said Daniel Arthur, a Pinnacle engineering consultant and researcher for the U.S. Department of Energy.

Using the injection wells, Pinnacle expects to pump water emerging from a coal seam that is 750 to 1,200 feet below ground and send it into a shallower coal seam, dry and sandwiched between shale. The company expects the water to remain there. Tests have indicated the coal seam, 20 feet thick, could hold at least 4.8 million barrels of water beneath a 640-acre area.

Arthur said drilling probably will occur within a month.

Pinnacle is a major player in the Montana coal-bed methane industry. The company holds mineral interests on more than 275,000 acres in the Powder River Basin. Most of those holdings are in Montana.

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