The US Bureau of Land Management has launched an initiative to resolve leasing conflicts between coal producers and coalbed methane producers.
BLM announced at a US Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing that it would instruct its state directors to resolve such conflicts in the Powder River basin of Wyoming and Montana, as well as areas in New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah with coalbed methane production and surface mining of coal. The hearing was focused on Senate bill S. 1950, the Powder River Basin Development Act, which would set a statutory framework for resolving conflicts.
John Northington, a senior BLM advisor, said BLM opposes S. 1950 because it is limited to the Powder River basin and would limit existing BLM regulatory powers.
Northington testified the agency has existing authority to resolve the conflicts. "Our policy provides that the initial course of action is to facilitate an agreement between the lessees. However, absent a settlement, we can and will utilize existing law and regulations in conjunction with the lease provisions to optimize recovery of both resources."
The Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States said the bill "...would establish a new system giving coal companies condemnation rights over developed and undeveloped areas, while allowing the coal companies to vent and waste gas at taxpayers' expense." The association said that, in contrast, the new BLM policy would "expedite recovery of natural gas and coal resources while protecting the rights of each lessee and respecting the principle of `first in time, first in right.'"
Vernon Isaacs Jr., president of Rim Operating Inc., testifying for IPAMS, said the conflict between coal and coalbed methane operators is focused on Hilight field in Campbell County, Wyo. Two surface coal mining operations are approaching the field.
Isaacs said, "Surface coal mining would cause the irretrievable venting and waste of the coalbed methane resource. Coal mining destroys the reservoir and directly vents the gas into the atmosphere. Moreover, the exposure of the coal seam causes a drop in reservoir pressure."