« Return to this article

Know the West

Gas wells wash out habitat

  The sheer volume of water that coalbed methane wells pour into streams could wipe out up to 30 aquatic species in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana. James Gore, an environmental scientist, presented these dire projections in November at the International Petroleum Environmental Conference in Houston, Texas. Each of the basin’s 15,000 wells pumps up to 17,000 gallons of groundwater to the surface every day; over half of the wastewater reaches streams.

Using a habitat-simulation computer program, Gore predicted that increased flows of 20 percent to 80 percent could lead to long spells (up to a month) of lost habitat for several river insects and the endangered western silvery minnow.,p> If the methane boom lasts 20 years, Gore says, these survival "bottlenecks" could have a "cascade effect," eliminating 20 to 30 species from the basin’s streams. There’s a shortage of field research so far, but Gore says his models show that the boom’s impact "is not only immediate, but has a chronic effect."

You can find the abstract of James Gore’s 2003 paper, and his similar paper from the 2002 IPEC conference, at http://ipec.utulsa.edu.