CASPER, Wyo. — Wyoming oil and gas regulators decided Thursday to ditch revised rules for a new way to boost coalbed methane production.
The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission decision clears the way for two Colorado companies that have proposed different methods to boost production of natural gas from underground microbes that feed off coal seams. The methods are known as microbial enhancement.
The commission was authorized by the state Legislature this year to create new rules for the companies’ processes, but chose not to after receiving guidance from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other commenters.
One process involves pumping chemicals and nutrients underground through wells to feed microbes. The other still involves pumping chemicals and nutrients underground, but to make it easier for the microbes to consume coal. Both processes will now be regulated under existing state and federal rules.
Commission Supervisor Tom Doll said the six-month process of drafting the rules, collecting public comment, reconsidering the rules and then killing them wasn’t a waste of time.
“It’s just the process you go through,” he said, adding that the EPA comments were critical to shaping the commission’s decisions.
The EPA insisted that state regulators require the companies adhere to the EPA Class V standard for their wells, which means aquifers would need to remain safe to drink. In Wyoming, the Class V standard is regulated by the state Department of Environmental Quality.
Representatives from Golden, Colo.-based Luca Technologies and Centennial, Colo.-based Ciris Energy Inc. both said they supported the commission’s decision.
“Luca believes that the commission made the correct determination that new rules for microbial enhancement were unnecessary since the statute enacted by the Legislature last February provides clear direction for proper implementation of this technology in Wyoming,” Bob Cavnar, Luca’s chief executive, wrote in an email.
Brian Ault, project manager for Ciris Energy, said his firm expects to have a project before state regulators within the next 30 days.
“We’re happy at the work the commission did and where they ended up,” he said.
Two conservation and environmental groups that have kept a close watch on the developing industry say they were also happy with the decision.
Richard Garrett of the Wyoming Outdoor Council conservation group said state environmental regulators are well-equipped to enforce the existing rules, as recommended by the EPA’s comments.
“It rightfully falls under their purview,” he said. “I think they gave us some reason to be cautious, and it looks like the oil and gas commission certainly listened to those concerns.”
Shannon Anderson is an organizer with the Powder River Basin Resource Council landowners group. While she supported the decision to follow the Class V standard, Anderson still had some concerns about the transparency of the process.
Anderson said that under existing rules, the two companies will deal privately with coal-mining companies about how their processes will conflict with the mining companies’ coal leases.
Since that coal is owned by the federal government, it doesn’t seem right that the companies can privately cut deals for resources that belong to the public, she said.
“There still needs to be some clarification of in terms of how this process will work,” she said.