POTENTIAL EFFECTS OF COALBED NATURAL GAS DEVELOPMENT ON FISH AND AQUATIC RESOURCES
Authors: Aïda M. Farag, David D. Harper, Anna Senecal and Wayne A. Hubert
Abstract: The purpose of this chapter is to provide a summary of issues and findings related to the potential effects of coalbed natural gas (CBNG) development on fish and other aquatic resources. We reviewed CBNG issues from across the United States and used the Powder River Basin of Wyoming as a case study to exemplify some pertinent issues. The quality of water produced during CBNG extraction is quite variable. High total dissolved solids in many CBNG produced waters are of concern relative to fish and other aquatic organisms. Untreated CBNG produced water has the potential to be toxic to fish and aquatic organisms. Of particular concern at some locations in the Powder River basin are elevated concentrations of sodium bicarbonate which have been shown to be toxic to some species of larval fish and aquatic invertebrates. The areas affected by direct toxicity were limited to headwaters and small tributaries studied in the basin. The potential effects of organic compounds used during well drilling and CBNG production on water quality, fish, and aquatic organisms are not well defined. Water produced from CBNG wells that is low in salts or has been treated to remove salts may be discharged into ephemeral or perennially-flowing streams. Higher flows in small streams can enhance erosion and affect habitat for fish and aquatic organisms. In Great Plains rivers, such as the Powder River, fish and aquatic invertebrate communities are structured by extreme environmental conditions. Direct discharge of CBNG produced water during periods of very low or no surface flow may cause shifts in the aquatic community structure. Additional effects of CBNG development on fish and aquatic organisms may stem from road building and pipeline construction, roads crossing streams and ephemeral water courses, the possible spread of invasive organisms, potential spills of toxic substances, and increased harvest of sport fish.
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