Companies have abandoned 8,000 coal-bed methane wells on public lands in Wyoming – Who pays?

Coal-bed methane was going to be the answer to Wyoming’s slumping oil-based economy. Companies flocked to the Powder River Basin in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the promise of big money was available to anyone with a dream and ability to work hard.

Thousands of wells popped up. The BLM oversees 15,662 coal-bed methane wells in the Powder River Basin alone, said Clark Bennett, assistant field manager over minerals and lands in the BLM’s Buffalo Field Office.

But by the late-2000s, the boom became a bust. Cheaper, abundant natural gas flooded the market from other parts of the country, leaving little money to be had in the Powder River Basin.

Companies left the region or went broke, leaving their wells behind. Concerns grew about about abandoned wells and their potential to pollute aquifers used for drinking and irrigation.

“These wells can be a conduit for groundwater contamination when the casing starts to fail,” said Jill Morrison, an organizer with the Powder River Resource Council. “They are a source of noxious weeds. They are a blight on your land.”

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