At EarthFix, we recently reported on natural gas drilling in the Pacific Northwest. We found that wastewater from the coal-bed gas well operation in Coos Bay presented some water quality issues.
We know that what goes down, must come up when drilling a natural gas well. And what comes up—drilling mud, hydraulic fracturing fluids, water and sometimes toxic heavy metals—must go somewhere.
In Coos Bay, Oregon, wastewater was produced and taken off site during the 2005 through 2007 drilling, testing and hydraulic fracturing—fracking—of coal-bed gas wells. For a while the company, now-defunct Methane Energy, was trucking its wastewater to the local wastewater treatment plant. However, after fracking, the company was going to have to “de-water” the coal seam, producing far too much wastewater for the plant. So the company applied for a federal permit to discharge its wastewater into the Davis Slough.
There was a problem: Too much copper in the wastewater.
Copper, commonly found in coal beds, is highly toxic to fish, invertebrates and amphibians. The company began filtering its wastes and eventually, regulators gave the company a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination Waste Water Discharge (NPDES) permit with numerous restrictions, including one on copper.
Ron Robinson, with the wells’ current permit holder, Westport Energy, says he may have tracked the copper—or some of the copper—to the material used to fuse the underground well pipes. That’s copper pipe goop to all the plumbers out there. Whatever the source, the company plans to use a filtration system to remove the copper if production begins.
The issue, however, could be moot unless the company finds new financial backing before its NPDES permit expires. The permit was issued in April 2007 and most NPDES permits expire in five years, giving the company about nine months to move forward.
If production does begin, water discharges and Davis Slough water quality will be something to watch.