|03-21-2006, 05:19 PM||#1|
Join Date: May 2001
Location: Elway was just an arm =MacGruder
Water win gives petitioners hope
By DUSTIN BLEIZEFFER
Star-Tribune energy reporter Tuesday, March 21, 2006
GILLETTE -- A new court decision in favor of a rancher who doesn't want coal-bed methane water to drain onto his property has given hope for a larger effort to force the state to require truly beneficial uses of the water.
On Thursday, 8th District Judge Keith Kautz issued a decision declaring that Barber Creek and South Prong Barber Creek on a Campbell County ranch owned and operated by William P. Maycock II are not natural watercourses.
The case centers on easement and condemnation questions for surface owners who don't want continual flows of coal-bed methane water dumped down drainages that otherwise rarely flow with water, because much of that land is used for grazing.
In a separate effort, the Powder River Basin Resource Council and a group of ranchers recently convinced the Wyoming Environmental Quality Council to take up a rulemaking process that could force the state to require that all volumes of coal-bed methane water discharged on the surface are put to a measurable "beneficial use."
Though the petition aims to plug a perceived gap between the state's regulation of water quality vs. regulation of water quantity, petition supporters say the judgment in the Maycock case buttresses their argument.
Jill Morrison of the PRBRC said the Maycock decision is simply one more recognition that the state's handling of coal-bed methane water discharges is bungled.
"This will have enormous implications regarding everything about coal-bed methane water discharges," Morrison said. "I hope this time industry finally comes to the table in a sincere fashion and the state provides some real leadership to finally do something productive with this water."
Most of the industry's billions of barrels of water are dumped into ephemeral waterways and held in hundreds of in-channel and off-channel reservoirs to prevent the water from reaching Montana-bound streams.
The state has long regarded dumping coal-bed methane water onto the surface as a "beneficial use," because it is available for livestock and wildlife.
Ranchers in the arid Powder River Basin welcome natural rain and snow runoff, but consistent flows of saline coal-bed methane water can cause erosion and change the vegetation and character of low-lying grazing lands.
Attorney Kate Fox, who is representing the petitioners, said the Maycock decision does seem to give momentum to ranchers fighting condemnation efforts regarding coal-bed methane water discharges.
However, the petition seeks remedies from a different angle.
"Ours has more to do with the state engineer's office regulating water quantity and DEQ (Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality) regulating quality," Fox said. "Currently, there's a huge wasteland in between that's not regulated, and we argue that gap should be eliminated."
The Environmental Quality Council board accepted the petition earlier this year, which means it will proceed through the rulemaking process. Once rules requiring beneficial uses for all volumes of coal-bed methane water discharges are drawn up, the board will vote to either reject or accept the rules.
Because of a busy schedule, the Environmental Quality Council said the next hearing on the rulemaking might have to wait until July or later.
John Corra, director of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, said on Monday that his department has struggled with what seems to be limited authority to deal with coal-bed methane water.
"Our position has been we have the authority to deal with water quality matters and that water quantity matters should be referred to the state engineer," Corra said.
Typically, a water discharge permit from DEQ's Water Quality Division only requires that the water meet certain quality parameters regarding pollution, and that the operator demonstrate a beneficial use.
Petitioners complain if one antelope might drink some of the water, the state believes the beneficial use requirement is fulfilled. Then the discharge permit opens the valve for thousands of barrels of water that really aren't put to a beneficial use, but often overrun low-lying drainages where ranchers normally like to run their cattle.
"I am not at all unhappy with the decision of the council to pursue rulemaking on these matters," Corra said on Monday. "The department has been struggling with these issues for some time. We have tried to address some of those issues in our permit writing, and we welcome the opportunity for full airing of the issues before the council."
* Last we knew: A coal-bed methane producer wanted to dump by-product water on a downstream rancher, arguing that the drainage conveys an easement under state water law.
* The latest: A judge threw out that argument, deciding that a drainages where water flow is rare does not constitute a "natural watercourse," as described by state law.
* What's next: Williams Production RMT Co. could appeal the decision, or proceed with condemnation efforts.
Energy reporter Dustin Bleizeffer can be reached at (307) 682-3388 or email@example.com.