Court: Water from Gas Drilling Must Be Regulated

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"The decision means companies must defer to water users with older water rights. . ."

Energy companies drilling natural gas from underground coal seams must obtain water well permits or replace the water they use, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled Monday.

Groundwater pumped out during coal-bed methane drilling is not just a waste product, the court said, ruling on a lawsuit by landowners who say their water supplies are threatened by companies using groundwater to free natural gas in coal seams.

The decision means companies must defer to water users with older water rights and replace the water they use when it belongs to others.

Pumping groundwater relieves pressure that traps methane gas in coal seams. Other gas drilling might produce water, but not in the volumes that coal-bed methane extraction does. Millions of gallons of water might be pumped over the life of one well.

There are about 38,000 active oil and gas wells statewide, and roughly 4,000 of those are coal-bed methane.

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