GILLETTE — The state is working on a new approach to issuing water-discharge permits to help reduce how often environmentalists and landowners contest permits for coal-bed methane wells.
The new system is being developed by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality Water Quality Division. It is expected to be in place by the end of the year.
"The whole concept behind the new initiative is to short circuit the lengthy process involved in getting a permit under the present system," said John Wagner, of the water division.
"We want to get everyone on board so that permits aren't slowed down and everyone feels a part of the process."
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The initiative is being designed with the hopes that every coal-bed methane permit won't be challenged by environmental groups or landowners when it goes to public notice, Wagner said.
Wyoming Outdoor Council lawyer Steve Jones welcomes the idea but questions whether it will lead to adequate protection and monitoring. The council has challenged many of the water discharge permits issued in the Powder River Basin.
Under the plan being developed, water division officials will evaluate large areas of watersheds in 10 areas of the Powder River Basin. It will take into account public comments from environmental groups, ranchers and producers.
Water is pumped to the surface in extracting coal-bed methane. And since the coal-bed methane drilling began in earnest in the Powder River Basin in the mid-1990s, millions of gallons of groundwater have been discharged on the surface.
The groundwater is often chemically different from surface water, worrying environmentalists and landowners.
One of the issues being factored into the plan is Montana's state laws governing the cleanliness of water that crosses the state line. The Powder River Basin extends into Montana.
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