Methane Mining in Montana May Be Salting The Earth (Literally)
An expansion of mining coal-bed methane seams in Montana has led to complaints from local farmers that irrigation water has become polluted. The process of pumping out large quantities of salty water from the seams to get at the lucrative methane (natural) gas is being blamed for contaminating local ground water and streams. Though denied by industry reps, Roger Muggli, a local farmer, states that his alfalfa crops have been damaged by this process.
It appears that this practice is literally “salting the earth”, a reference to a biblical times practice of spreading salt on fields to make them infertile to crops.
Up to 2 million gallons of water produced by the industry are discharged daily into the Tongue in Montana. Almost 10 times that amount is put into the Powder River upstream in Wyoming, according to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality.
Though coal-bed methane water contains sodium, the two rivers have naturally high levels of sodium. So gauging the industry’s impact on the river water is difficult.
Muggli said that when he used irrigation water from the Tongue last growing season, the clay-based soils in three fields were rendered useless.
When clay soil has too much sodium, it can collapse to form an impenetrable seal. With water and air unable to get through the soil, Muggli’s alfalfa turned yellow within a month.
“The only change we’ve had after irrigating with this water for 120 years is CBM (coal-bed methane),” Muggli said. “Who else am I going to blame?”
Getting at the remaining natural gas in North America will be much more difficult and, as this case shows us, potentially much more polluting.
pic via Food Chronicles