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Coal beds produce methane gas. In many regions, the combination of thickness of the
coal, gas content and permeability add up to profitable methane gas production.


Coal Bed Methane field development is done according to well-designed plans in
order to optimize gas production, field life, and profitability. A well is drilled to the
top of the producing coal formation and cased with cement. The well is then under-
reamed into and thru the coal formation. When formation water is pumped out of the
well, reducing hydrostatic pressure, the methane gas desorbs (comes out of solution
in the coal bed) and is produced in gaseous form.


The main plays are in New Mexico, Wyoming, Kansas, Iowa, Alabama and along the
Appalachian mountains from Pennsylvania to Virginia.

Recently, ALASKA has become a CBM player with exploration and development West
of Cook Inlet.

Coal Bed Methane Fields
By: Richard B. Wells, Consulting Geologist,
Reprinted with permission from the August 1999 issue of The National Drillers Buyers

One of the hottest new gas plays in the United States (which any shallow-well driller with
an idle rig should be aware of) is coal gas (methane). The wells are shallow, they need
lots of them, and they are drilled with water well rigs like the Gardner Denver 1500. The
idea of hundreds of new shallow wells should rekindle the old entrepreneurial spirit in
any drillers heart. These fields cannot be found just anywhere, but they are in enough
states to make quite a difference in the national shallow rig count. The main plays are in
New Mexico, Wyoming, Kansas, Iowa, Alabama, and along the Appalachians from
Pennsylvania to Virginia.

In any coal bed methane prospect, the key parameters are the thickness of the coal, the
gas content and permeability of the coal. A fairly large number of pilot wells are needed
before you can predict the productivity of the reservoir in terms of recoverable reserves
for the average well and for the field as a whole.

Coal bed methane field development should be done according to a well-designed plan in
order to maximize total gas production, field life, and profitability. First, the geology of
the reservoir (and the interbedded formations) should be studied in considerable detail so
that the lateral extent, coal thickness, and degree of fracturing are known. With this
information, the approximate volume of the reservoir can be calculated. The gas content
and temperature in the reservoir should be determined as the field is developed through
an extensive coring and core analysis program, including pressure cores. Consistent and
accurate well testing must be conducted, and the results stored in a database. This
database can be used to map the reservoir, with the maps updated as each new well is
drilled. Carbonaceous shales interbedded with the coals should also be cored and
analyzed for their gas content.

Cavitation tests are run to determine how production rates can be enhanced by hydraulic
fracturing. The orientation of stress fields in the reservoir should be determined to aid in
predicting fracture directions, and if faulting is suspected, downhole imaging tools can be
run to find their location, orientation, and permeability characteristics.

Some coal bed methane fields are divided into separate reservoir compartments by faults,
coal bed pinch-outs, or permeability variations. Detailed structural and lithofacies
mapping are needed to get an understanding of these reservoirs. Different reservoir
compartments can have different reservoir pressures, water levels, and permeabilities.

Regional stratigraphic studies are useful for understanding sedimentary sequences,
sequence boundaries and unconformities in the section, important information for
predicting coal cutouts and oxidized zones. Thermal modelling of the field is needed for
understanding the burial history, coal maturity, gas content, and formation pressure. Mud
logs and wireline logs should be run in all the pilot holes as well as the production wells.
The hydrogeology of these fields is also important, because the water strongly influences
reservoir pressure, the gas saturation, and the ability to de-water the coals. Fluctuations in
groundwater levels and the piezometric surface can also indicate the connectivity of coal

Those are some of the things to consider when prospecting for coal bed methane gas.
Now, letÕs look at some of the fields that have been found...San Juan Basin of New
Mexico has about three thousand coal bed methane wells, producing from coals between
30 and 80 feet thick at depths between 1,600 and 3,300 feet. Gas content ranges from 300
to 500 cubic feet per ton, and well spacing is generally 320 acres, or two wells per square
mile. One of the biggest operators in the basin is Meridian Oil, with more than four
hundred shallow methane wells.

A new coal bed methane development project has begun in the Raton Basin, Colfax
County, New Mexico by Pennzenergy and Sonat Exploration, in a leasehold covering
700,000 acres. The coals are in the Raton Formation (between 960 and 1,740 feet) and in
the Vermejo Formation (1,470 to 2,500 feet). They plan to drill six hundred wells over the
next five years to tap a gas reserve estimated to hold a trillion cubic feet of gas.

The coals in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming are quite different from those of the
major coal bed methane basins. They have a high water content, low gas content, low ash,
and high permeability. Because of these characteristics, it was thought that commercial
coal bed methane production would not be possible here. However, during the past six
years several shallow coal bed methane fields have been developed, proving that gas can
be released from the coal matrix even where the gas content is low and permeability is

Coal bed methane fields in the Powder River Basin lie near the basin margins, where the
coals typically lie between 250 and 1,000 feet. The wells can be drilled and completed for
about $50,000 and average 100 thousand cubic feet per day or more. The wells are drilled
with air, air-mist, or water, with 7-inch casing set at the top of the producing seam. Wells
are completed open-hole, from a single coal seam in each well. Submersible electric
pumps are used to pump the water to the surface where it is discharged on the surface.
Water disposal is not a problem here, as the water quality is good enough to be used by
local ranchers for tending livestock. Combined production from these wells was 28
million cubic feet per day at the end of 1997, with another 35 million cubic feet per day
in wells already drilled, tested, and waiting for pipeline connections. The reservoirs range
from 40 to 90 feet thick and lie at 150 to 600 feet below the grass roots.

A major research effort on Powder River Basin coals by the Gas Research Institute, has
resulted in detailed guidelines for well testing and formation evaluation involving a
combination of coring, openhole logging, and flow testing. The objectives are to
determine the reservoir thickness, gas content, pressure and storage capacity of the
reservoir, and the permeability of the natural fracture system. Fracturing with a moderate
to high rate of water injection without the use of any proppants (chemicals used to
improve yield,) generally improves production rates significantly. A detailed summary of
the GRI study appeared in the Oil and Gas Journal for April 26, 1999.

The Forest City Basin of Kansas and Iowa has several thick Pennsylvanian coal beds that
are very gassy. They formed from peat deposits in an old river delta that once crossed the
area. The coal beds are about 4 feet thick and contain from 50 to 435 standard cubic feet
of methane per ton. They have high sulfur and low ash content. Four exploration
companies, including Duncan Energy Company, have formed a consortium to exploit the
gas in northeastern Kansas, where they have leased some 250,000 acres. These wells
produce from 10 to 300 thousand cubic feet per day and around two hundred barrels of

There are around three thousand two hundred coal bed methane wells in the Black
Warrior Basin of Alabama, producing from coals between 15 and 25 feet thick at depths
between 500 and 3,000 feet. Gas content ranges from 250 to 500 cubic feet per ton, and
well spacing is typically 80 acres. River Gas Corporation developed a coal bed methane
field northeast of Tuscaloosa with some 535 wells on a leasehold of 32,480 acres. Typical
wells are drilled with a 7 and 7/8-inch bit and 6-inch air hammer to a depth of 2,200 feet
for around $190,000. Median production per well is 82 thousand cubic feet per day.

The Appalachian Basin has about five hundred coal bed methane wells, producing from
coals between 10 and 20 feet thick at depths between 500 and 2,800 feet. Gas content
ranges from 300 to 600 cubic feet per ton, and well spacing is generally 80 acres, or eight
wells per square mile.

The public workshops are intended to produce recommendations to DNR
for standards guiding decision making related to coal bed methane leases
in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. Additionally, the workshops will
recommend standards to Department of Environmental Conservation,
Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, and the Matanuska-
Susitna Borough for their respective decision-making.

The first public workshop previously scheduled for January 14, will be A large
held on Wednesday, January 28. All of the workshops will be held at the component of
Teeland Middle School, 2788 N. Seward Meridian, Wasilla unless natural gas is a
otherwise noted. substance
called methane
Wednesday, January 28 (CH4).
6:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m. Workshops overview; Public notice issues Methane is a
gas compound
Wednesday, February 4 produced when
6:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m. Private property rights issues organic
material is
Wednesday, February 18 geologically
6:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m. Surface impact issues turned into
coal. When the
Saturday, February 28 coal and
To be held at Willow Community Center, Willow, AK methane
10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. conversion
Water management and drinking water protection issues process occurs
such that the
For more information, and for updates on the project, please visit the coal is
DNR Oil and Gas website or contact: saturated with
water and
Pat Galvin at 269-8775 / Mark Sprague at 269-8527 methane is
trapped within
Background the coal, the
result is "coal
What is Coal Bed Methane (CBM) Development? bed methane."
Coal bed
Coal bed methane is natural gas held inside underground coal seams by methane
the pressure of the water above it. This natural gas can be produced by (CBM) is the
pumping out the groundwater to relieve the pressure on the gas (the same
groundwater is then called compound as
"produced water"). natural gas, just
Sometimes fracturing derived from a
fluids are also used to different
make the well produce geologic
more gas. These fluids can situation. The
have toxic and gas has a wide
carcinogenic additives. variety of
Why Should You Be uses, and with
Concerned About the current
Coal Bed Methane Development?

Coal bed methane wells, pipelines and roads can be developed on your
private property without your permission. While you might own the
surface of your property, the State generally holds the subsurface mineral
energy crisis and relatively high fuel prices, increased attention has been
put on development of this resource.

Methane is generally considered a cleaner form of energy than traditional coal and oil.
Exploration costs for CBM are low, and wells used to extract CBM are cost effective to
drill. Because methane is less dense than oxygen, it rises to the surface as water pressure
is reduced within the coal seam by pumping.

CBM exploration and extraction is not a new industry. In fact, CBM extraction has
occurred worldwide for many years. However, the U.S. has only recently recognized
CBM as an easy-to-get energy source, and exploration is underway in many parts of the
nation to find CBM relatively close to the land surface. According to the CBM
Association of Alabama, 13% of land in the lower 48 United States has some coal under
it, and nearly all of this coal contains methane, either in the form we know as natural gas
or as CBM.

Development of the CBM industry is well underway in Wyoming, while development in
Montana is on hold while an Environmental Impact Statement is being written and
litigation is being addressed. The Powder River corridor in Montana and the Tongue
River Valley in southeastern Montana are viewed as hot spots for future CBM
development. Thus, CBM extraction is an issue getting a lot of attention in Montana these

Extraction of coal bed methane is not without controversy. CBM extraction involves
pumping large volumes of water from coal seams in order to release water pressure that
traps gas within the coal. The quantity, quality, and dispersal of this water is a source of
much debate. Each well is expected to produce approximately 5 to 20 gallons of water
per minute. If a well produced 12 gallons per minute, that would total 17,280 gallons of
water per day for one well. The product water, although acceptable to drink or water
livestock with, has a modestly high salinity hazard and often a very high sodium hazard
based on standards used for irrigation suitability. When considered as an irrigation supply
or when spread on the land, water of CBM quality could alter soil physical and chemical
properties; it could also limit long-term productivity of sensitive rangeland species. On
the positive side, if the right management practices and bioremediation processes can be
defined, CBM product water can serve as a valuable supplement to existing irrigation
water supplies, as irrigation supplies are almost always in limited supply and of
undesirable quality by the middle of the summer in southeast Montana. Depending on
soil type, discharge water alone is often not suitable for irrigation except with very
rigorous management or on the most coarse soils.

Multifaceted research underway at Montana State University-Bozeman is attempting to
find the best ways to manage CBM product water. The first goal is to determine standards
and criteria which discharge water must meet for discharge into waterways and land
spreading. Research will focus on determining acceptable and sustainable guidelines of
mixing rates of CBM water with irrigation water from the Powder River for summer
irrigation flow periods. The second facet of MSU research is focusing on using artificial
wetlands and specific plant communities for mitigation of discharge water. From the data
collected from this research a diagnostic and decision support tool (a user-friendly,
Internet accessible, printable worksheet) will then be developed for irrigator use in
determining suitability of CBM-impacted irrigation water for specific irrigated soil x crop

What is coal bed methane?
The primary energy source of natural gas is a substance called methane (CH4). Coal bed
methane (CBM) is simply methane found in coal seams. It is produced by non-traditional
means, and therefore, while it is sold and used the same as traditional natural gas, its
production is very different. CBM is generated either from a biological process as a result
of microbial action or from a thermal process as a result of increasing heat with depth of
the coal. Often a coal seam is saturated with water, with methane is held in the coal by
water pressure. Currently, natural gas from coal beds accounts for approximately 7% of
total natural gas production in the United States.

Where does coal bed methane exist?
According to the CBM Association of Alabama, 13% of the land in the lower 48 United
States has some coal under it, and some of this coal contains methane - either in the form
we know as traditional natural gas or as CBM. According to the United States Geological
Survey, the Rocky Mountain Region has extensive coal deposits bearing an estimated 30-
58 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of recoverable CBM. While impressive, this represents only
one third of the total 184 TCF of natural gas in the Rocky Mountain region (Decker,

Within the Rocky Mountain Region, untapped sources of CBM exist in the Powder River
Basin of Wyoming and Montana, the Greater Green River Basin of Wyoming, Colorado,
and Utah, the Uinta-Piceance Basin of Colorado and Utah, and the Raton and San Juan
Basins of Colorado and New Mexico. An estimated 24 TCF of recoverable CBM
resources may lie below the Powder River basin of Montana and Wyoming (Decker,
How much methane gas is estimated will be extracted from the Powder River
Estimates of amounts of methane gas in the Powder
River Basin vary and are often re-calculated. There are
several methods to estimate the amount of recoverable
gas from a coal seam, all having varying degrees of

According to the U. S. Geological Survey (2001), the
amount of recoverable CBM in the Powder River Basin
ranges from 8.24 - 22.42 TCF. The Wyoming Oil and
Gas Conservation Commission (2002) estimates 31.8
TCF of recoverable CBM in the Powder River Basin of
Wyoming alone. The Montana Bureau of Mines and
Geology and the U.S. Department of Energy have
separately estimated 0.8 - 1.0 TCF of recoverable CBM
in the Powder River Basin of Montana. The
Environmental Impact Statement for coal bed methane
development in the Powder River Basin of Montana
reports 2.5 TCF of recoverable gas.

How do they estimate the amount of methane gas which will come from a
region underlain by coal?
There are two popular methods of estimating recoverable methane gas from a coal seam.
One method requires estimating methane reserves by boring to the top of the coal seam,
then extracting a core from the coal. The amount of methane recovered from the coal core
is used to estimate gas content per unit volume of coal. If a number of cores are drilled
and methane gas release is observed, one can estimate the amount of gas available in a
region. The limitations to this method are: 1) there is much disturbance to the coal seam
core before gas release is measured; 2) it is expensive and 3) not every region of potential
CBM development has been drilled and explored.
Another method of estimation is through a series of calculations based on information
already known about the coal in the region and the feasibility of CBM development. For
instance, the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology estimated the amount of recoverable
CBM in the Powder River Basin using the following information:

 A coal seam has favorable reserves if it produces 50-70 ft3 per ton of coal.
 CBM extraction is economical at 50 ft3 per ton of coal when a coal seam is 20 feet
thick or more.
 Coal bed methane exists only in areas where the dominant chemistry of the water
in the coal seam is sodium bicarbonate and where the coal seam is buried deeply
enough to maintain sufficient water pressure to hold the gas in place.

The Environmental Impact Statement for CBM development in the Powder River Basin
estimated the amount of coal in the region based on the total reported tonnage of coal in
the region multiplied by 50 ft3 of methane per ton of coal, irregardless of seam thickness,
depth or proximity to outcrop.

How do gas companies extract methane from a coal seam?
Since CBM travels with ground water in coal seams, extraction of CBM involves
pumping available water from the seam in order to reduce the water pressure that holds
gas in the seam. CBM has very low solubility in water and readily separates as pressure
decreases, allowing it to be piped out of the well separately from the water. Water moving
from the coal seam to the well bore encourages gas migration toward the well.

CBM producers try not to dewater the coal seam, but rather seek to decrease the water
pressure (or head of water) in the coal seam to just above the top of the seam. However,
sometimes the water level drops into the coal seam.

Are coal seams aquifers?
Yes. Water flows through fractures (or cleats) in the coal seam and if the cleat system is
well developed and has enough water to pump and produce an economically viable and
feasible water supply, the seam can be an aquifer. Coal seams are the most regionally
continuous geologic unit in the Powder River Basin and have aquifer characteristics equal
to or better than sandstones, so are frequently targeted for water-well completions.

I've heard people talk about aquifer drawdown from CBM development.
What does this mean?
Ground water flows through coal seams due to water pressure, or hydrostatic head. When
the pump in a well is turned on, the amount of water than can be produced is controlled in
part by the static water level, which is the original hydrostatic head in the well. As the
pump withdraws water from the aquifer and discharges it at the surface (whether it is to a
stock tank, house, or CBM discharge point) the water pressure (head) in the aquifer is
reduced. The greatest reduction in water pressure is near the well, with progressively less
change at increasing distances from the well. If we could see this reduction in water
pressure it would be shaped like a funnel or cone with the spout in the well. This area of
reduced water pressure is called the cone-of-depression. When the pump is turned off,
water flowing through the coal aquifer replaces the discharged water, and the water
pressure returns to static conditions. An idealized ground-water flow system, and one
where the head shows the drawdown associated with CBM production are shown in the
following figures.

Within the cone-of-depression, there is less water pressure in the aquifer, and therefore
less water can be produced from a well (or spring). The percentage change is greatest
near the central or deepest part of the cone-of-depression. The amount of change in water
pressure and the distance from the producing well to the limit of change depends on
many factors, including the static water level, pumping rate, aquifer characteristics, and
how long water is produced. Also, the time needed for water pressure to return to static
conditions is dependent on the same parameters. In cases with a field of producing wells,
as is the case with CBM, the size of the cone-of-depression and recovery time are both
increased significantly.

Some individuals say that the depleted aquifers in the Powder River Basin
will be recharged within a matter of years, while others think the time
might be more on the scale of a thousand years or more. Who is right?
Aquifer recharge is the process whereby precipitation or surface water infiltrates below
land surface and begins to flow in an aquifer system. Ground water flowing through coal
seams in the Powder River Basin has infiltrated along clinker or scoria ridges, in stream
valleys, and in some cases in sandy soils during years of heavy precipitation. In the case
of CBM product water, recharge occurs many miles away from development sites.

According to the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology, monitoring and groundwater
modeling indicates somewhere between a few years and 20 years for recharge to occur.
The question of recharge time is a challenging one. In coal mining areas, recharge occurs
within a few years (typically 3 to 4). However, open pit or strip coal mines normally
cover an area of only a few square miles, and because the area of impact is relatively
small, recharge can occur rapidly. With CBM extraction, the area of impact may be as
large as many adjacent townships (1 township=36 mi2). In such large geographic areas
recharge depends on the time it takes recharge at the coal seam outcrop to move to the
CBM developed area (Wheaton, 2002).

I heard that almost all CBM product water discharged to the land surface
eventually reaches the aquifer from which it was pumped. Is this true?
MSU scientists contend that most likely only a small percentage of CBM water returns to
the aquifers from which it was pumped. Rather, the water recharges shallow alluvium and
coarse soil material aquifers near the land surface, less than 200 feet deep, or is lost to
evaporation. If CBM product water is directly discharged into a stream channel (this is no
longer allowed, but there are sites that were "grandfathered") it can flow downstream,
evaporate, or percolate to groundwater through the stream channel. Land applied or
stored CBM product water evaporates or percolates to shallow groundwater.

Once water reaches a shallow aquifer, where it goes is very site specific. The aquifer
water pressure (head) may increase, and/or the water may flow laterally to a spring or
become baseflow to a nearby stream. There are reports in the Powder River Basin that
some stream channels are carrying more flow than before CBM development, and there
are reports that some streams have no increase in flow. With our current level of
knowledge, it is very difficult to predict what will happen to the water once it reaches the
shallow aquifer system.

In Gillette, WY, the Pennaco company is reinjecting water back into the depleted aquifer
which supplies water for the city of Gillette. Pennaco, and other companies in the Powder
River Basin, are investigating the feasibility of injecting CBM product water at several
sites in the area.

Will CBM devlopment reduce flow to streams, springs and wells?
As a result of the large amount of water being pumped from coal seam aquifers, there is
concern of impact to springs and streams and to the level of water in drinking and
livestock wells. The answer to this question is very location specific. If a spring or stream
is fed by a coal seam aquifer (the coal seam surfaces and discharges
water into a stream or spring), CBM development in the local area may
decrease flow to those water bodies. If a spring or stream is not fed by a
coal seam aquifer, decreases in flow would be minimal. However, if
CBM product water is land applied or impounded in a holding pond (most often
these ponds are not lined and discharge to the subsurface), streams down slope may
have increased flow during development due to subsurface flow.
If a drinking water or livestock well gets water directly from a coal seam, then CBM
development in the local area may decrease the water level in that well. Duration of
impacts to spring flow and water available from wells will depend on the total area
developed and timing.

Why are people concerned with CBM product water?
There are several concerns about CBM development and how to manage the water co-
produced with methane.

The quantity of the CBM product water:
Extraction of CBM involves pumping large volumes of water from the saturated coal
seam in order to release the water pressure holding the gas in the coal seam. What to do
with this volume of often marginal-quality CBM product water is a source of much
debate. Each well produces 5 to 20 gallons of water per minute. At 12 gallons per minute,
one well produces a total of 17,280 gallons of water per day. It is common to have to
have one well every 80 acres, and in the Powder River Basin, there are up to three
methane-bearing coal seams. Therefore, there may be up to three wells per 80 acres.

The quality of CBM product water and its effects on soil:
CBM product water has a moderately high salinity hazard and often a very high sodium
hazard based on standards used for irrigation suitability. Irrigation with water of CBM
product water quality on range or crop lands should be done with great care and managed
closely. With time, salts from the product water can accumulate in the root zone to
concentrations which will affect plant growth. Saline conditions stunt plant growth
because plants must work harder to extract water from the soil.

The sodium hazard of CBM product water poses additional threats to certain soil
resources. Sodic irrigation water causes soil crusting and impairs soil hydraulic
conductivity, adversely affecting water availability and aeration and subsequent crop
growth and yield. Upon wetting of soils containing swelling clay, sodium causes the
degree of swelling in the clay to increase, leading to dispersion and migration of clay
particles. Current research at Montana State University shows that water with sodium
levels equal to typical Montana CBM product water can degrade the physical and
chemical properties of heavier, clay soils, making such soils completely unsuitable for
plant growth.

The risk of sodium degradation has been observed in other soil textures. Jim Oster
(personal com.) observed crusting, poor soil tilth, hardsetting and aggregate failure on a
sandy loam soil irrigated with water with EC ~ 1 and SAR ~ 7. Minhaus (1994) saw
irreversible and severe reduction in infiltration on sandy loam soil with long term
irrigation under high SAR water followed by monsoon rain.

There are many factors in addition to soil textures that affect infiltration rates.
Mineralogy, lime, sesquiozides, organic matter content, cultivation, irrigation method,
wetting rate, antecedent water content and time since cultivation all play a roll in
infiltration. The only way to be certain of the impacts of saline/sodic irrigation water on
the soil is to periodically sample and test the irrigation water and the soil.

The quality of CBM product water and its effect on plants:
Disposal of the quantities of CBM product water into stream channels and on the
landscape poses a risk to the health and condition of existing riparian and wetland areas.
High salinity and sodium levels in product water may alter riparian and wetland plant
communities by causing replacement of salt intolerant species with more salt tolerant
species. It is well recognized that encroachment of such noxious species as salt cedar,
Russian olive, and leafy spurge is enhanced by saline conditions.

Impounded CBM discharge in
Encroachment of
an ephemeral channel. Die-off
halophytic weed species
of plants within weeks of
within one season.

Left: An example of soils of eastern Montana that are high
in swelling (montmorillonitic) clay.
Right: Complete dispersion of the same soil following a
season of exposure to high saline/sodic water.

What is saline water and why is it considered saline?
Saline water has a relatively high concentration of dissolved salts. Salt is not just "salt" as
we know it - sodium chloride (NaCl) - but can be dissolved calcium (Ca2+), magnesium
(Mg2+) sulfate (S042-), bicarbonate (HC03-) and Boron (B).

Salinity of water is referred to in terms of Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) and can be
estimated by measuring Electrical Conductivity (EC), expressed as decisiemen per meter
(dS/m), or less often in millimhos per centimeter (mmhos/cm) (the two measurements are
numerically equivalent). EC is also reported in microsiemens or micromhos per
centimeter, equal to 1,000 times dS/m. TDS is approximately related to EC by the
following equations:

 TDS (parts per million, ppm or milligrams per liter, mg/l) = 640 x EC (dS/m)
 TDS (milliequivalents per liter) = 10 x EC (dS/m)

Water is considered saline when it becomes a risk for crop growth and yield. The U.S.
Department of Agriculture defines water with an EC greater than 3.0 dS/m as saline.

What is sodic water and why is it considered sodic?
Sodic water is high in the sodium (Na+) concentration relative to concentrations of
calcium (Ca2+) and magnesium (Mg2+). Sodicity of water is expressed as the Sodium
Adsorption Ratio (SAR) which is:

SAR = Na √ [(Ca + Mg) / 2] (These values are in meq/L)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines water with a SAR greater than 12 as sodic.

Is CBM product water in Montana saline or sodic?
In the Powder River Basin, CBM product water becomes increasingly saline and sodic
moving north and west through the basin.
Are some soils more sensitive than others to saline and/or sodic water?
Yes. Irrigation water that is suitable for one soil may not be for another. Use of saline
and/or sodic water for irrigation can be risky business on soils predominated by silt or
clay. Just 1 acre-foot of moderately saline irrigation water (EC = 3 dS/m - the upper end
of suitability for irrigation water) will introduce 1.8 tons of salt to an acre of land. Soluble
salts do not leach as readily through fine textured soils as through sandy soils. Therefore,
when irrigating fine textured soils with moderately saline water, it is critical to add
enough water to meet crop water requirements and to maintain a net downward
movement of water through the soil.

In addition to being a salinity component of irrigation water, sodium poses a more
troublesome problem in soils with more than 30% clay. On such soils, sodium degrades
soil physical properties, leading to poor drainage and crusting. Irrigation of sandy soils
with sodic water on sandy soils does not cause such problems, as the sodium is more
readily leached from the soil profile.

Sodium risk to soil infiltration cannot be determined solely from the USDA definition of
sodic water (SAR = 12). Therefore, the sodium hazard of irrigation water on soil
infiltration must be determined from the SAR/EC interaction. Ayers and Wescot (1985)
outline guidelines for evaluating sodium risk to soil infiltration. The risk is soil texture
independent. The three examples below illustrate the need to evaluate the risk to soil
infiltration based on the EC/SAR interaction. It is important to understand that rainfall or
irrigation with non-saline water on soils previously irrigated with saline sodic water can
increase the sodium hazard by lowering the EC much faster than the SAR.

Saline Irrigation Water: EC = 3.2
dS/m, SAR = 5.0 slight risk

Sodic Irrigation Water: EC = 1.4
dS/m, SAR = 13 slight to moderate

Saline-Sodic Irrigation Water = EC
4.0 dS/m, SAR = 20 slight risk

Is it true you can irrigate crops with CBM water?
Irrigation of crops with water of CBM quality can be risky if not managed closely. With
time, salts accumulate in the root zone to concentrations which will affect crop growth.
Saline conditions stunt plant growth because the plants must work harder to extract water
from the soil. Table 1 illustrates salt tolerance levels for some common Montana crops.
Table 1. Salt tolerance of common Montana crops.
Tolerant Semi-Tolerant Sensitive
EC = 10-16 dS/m EC = 4-10 dS/m EC < 4 dS/m
Wheat Potatoes
Oats Field Bean
Crops Sugarbeet
Safflower Peas
Corn Lentils
Forages Tall wheatgrass (Alkar) Yellow Sweetclover (Commercial) White clover
Bearless wildrye (Shoshone) Alfalfa (ladak 65) Meadow Foxtail
Altai wildrye (Prairieland) Tall fescue (Kenmont) Alsike clover
Slender wheatgrass (Revenue) Wheat (hay) Red clover
Western wheatgrass (Rosana) Orchardgrass Ladino clover
Russian wildrye (Commercial) Cicer milkvetch
Barley (Steptoe) Crested Wheatgrass (Nordan)

Sources: MSU Extension MontGuide #8382 Salinity Control Under Irrigation; MontGuide #8321
Salt Tolerant Forages for Saline Seep Areas

Elevated sodium and chloride concentrations can harm some woody plants as they are
taken up by the root cells or directly applied to plant leaves. Either way, ions can
accumulate in the leaves, causing leaf burn along the outer leaf edges.

Sodium can indirectly affect crop growth by causing calcium, potassium, and magnesium
deficiencies or by adversely affecting soil physical properties. If irrigation water is sodic,
physical properties of heavier soils (predominantly silt or clay) may be altered, affecting
the soil's ability to drain. Poorly drained soils can compromise crop growth and yield.

To avoid build-up of salt in the soil, annually leach the soil with enough non-saline water
so the salts are moved below the root zone. Adequate drainage is absolutely necessary for
this procedure to be successful. Research in the western United States has shown that
substantial volumes are needed to leach salt from the soil.

What are the current management practices for disposal of CBM product
Currently, CBM product water in the Powder River Basin is managed by the following
 Discharged into a stream channel - Although direct stream discharge is no
longer permitted on new wells, existing operations were "grandfathered" and are
still discharging directly into streams. Also, proposals are being advanced to allow
regulated discharges during certain flow conditions.
 Impounded - This method involves constructing a pond in which CBM product
water is stored or allowed to infiltrate to the subsurface. There are several terms
for these impoundments: "holding ponds", "zero discharge ponds" or "infiltration
ponds". Although they do not directly discharge water on the land surface, most
impoundments are not lined and do discharge to the subsurface. Some percentage
of seepage flow from impoundments is likely to reach stream channels via
subsurface flow.
 Land applied to crop or rangeland - through some form of irrigation equipment.
 Other uses - CBM product water is also used for dust control and, in some cases,
is being used by coal mines.

Another option proposed for disposal of CBM product water in eastern Wyoming and
Montana is to reinject the CBM product water back into an aquifer(s). This practice
occurs in the southwest U.S., where CBM product water is injected into formations below
CBM-bearing coal. This approach avoids surface discharge. Many opinions exist, and the
feasibility - economic, physical, and environmental - of either reinjecting CBM product
water to the coal seam from which it was pumped or injecting it into an aquifer above or
below the CBM-bearing coal seam is being investigated.

How can holding ponds hold all that water being produced from CBM
CBM product water holding ponds (also called infiltration ponds, evaporation ponds, or
zero discharge ponds) are designed to hold CBM water and avoid any discharge onto the
ground surface. Typical holding ponds are not lined and therefore discharge water to the
subsurface. Some MT Bureau of Mines and Geology shallow monitoring wells show
rising water levels in response to pond leakage in an area where CBM product water is
being stored. This phenomenon was similarly reported by the Bureau of Land
Management scientists monitoring relatively shallow aquifers near holding ponds in the
upper Powder River Basin. In addition, seepage flow from impoundments is likely to
reach stream channels via subsurface flow.

Can CBM product water be treated to make it more usable?
The only ways to lower the salt concentration in saline and/or sodic water are through
dilution with non-saline water, reverse osmosis, or salt precipitation with an evaporation
process that leaves salt behind and traps evaporated water. Reverse osmosis is expensive,
and evaporation and salt precipitation treatment is neither economical nor feasible with
large quantities of saline CBM water. Dilution of CBM product water is only possible if
there is a large source of non-saline water with which to dilute the saline water.

It is possible to alter the chemistry of sodic water by adding calcium and magnesium.
This does not eliminate or reduce sodium, but changes the ratio of sodium to other salts,
thus decreasing the sodium adsorption ratio (SAR). The net result is more saline water
with the sodium salt still dissolved in the water. This approach is not likely to work with
CBM product water because the added calcium will combine with carbonate from the
CBM water and precipitate out as calcium carbonate (lime). To make this process work,
CBM product water must be de-gassed of carbonate by addition of acid, or additional
calcium must be made available in the soil by acidification from sulfur additions.
Unfortunately, addition of more salts to water or soil may result in conditions too saline
for plant growth.