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Published August 11, 2011, 01:15 AM

Wyoming to address EPA methane farming concerns

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Wyoming regulators temporarily tabled discussion Tuesday of proposed rules for methane farming in response to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suggestions.

By: Mead Gruver, Associated Press

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Wyoming regulators temporarily tabled discussion Tuesday of proposed rules for methane farming in response to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suggestions.

Meeting in Casper, the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission decided to hold off on discussing new state rules for methane farming until it next meets Sept. 20. The commission is the state board in charge of regulating Wyoming's oil and gas industry.

Methane farming involves encouraging coal-eating microbes that are naturally present in underground coal seams to multiply and produce methane gas. The technique is targeted at getting depleted coal-bed methane wells to resume producing small but steady volumes of natural gas.

The EPA has been following the nascent industry to make sure the technique won't contaminate groundwater.

The commission has been considering a tougher groundwater protection standard in the Powder River Basin compared to elsewhere in Wyoming. The EPA told the commission in written comments last month that Wyoming should adopt a uniform statewide standard.

Commission staff discussed the recommendation with EPA officials Friday and will look at how to adopt them, said state Oil and Gas Supervisor Tom Doll.

“We decided that we needed to have more time,” he said.

He said the commission also will continue to review comments from environmentalists and the oil, gas and coal industries.

The commission has been looking at requiring methane farming in the Powder River Basin to adhere to the EPA Class V standard, which means aquifers would need to remain safe to drink. Methane farming elsewhere in the state could be held to a lower standard.

“Eventually these rules going to have to be OK under EPA rules,” said Shannon Anderson of the Powder River Basin Resource Council, a group following the methane farming issue.

A couple of companies have begun experimenting with methane farming in the Powder River Basin including Golden, Colo.-based Luca Technologies.

Luca has been watching the state rulemaking process, which followed approval of a state law for methane farming by the Wyoming Legislature last winter, said CEO Bob Cavnar.

“Whenever you're doing something new, it always takes longer than you would like. But I have to tell you, we're pleased with the progress,” Cavnar said.

The company has acquired more than 1,350 coal-bed methane wells in the Powder River Basin to implement its technique, which involves pumping nutrient-laden water into existing coal-bed methane wells to stimulate microbial colonies within the buried coal.

“We have toes on the starting line,” Cavnar said. “As soon as the rules pass and we have the appropriate permits issued, we're going to be ready.”

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