U.S. Water News Online
GILLETTE, Wyo. -- Landowners have no right to prevent waste
water from coalbed methane wells from flowing through established
waterways on their property, a state judge has ruled.
In a written decision, District Judge Keith G. Kautz said, "Any
water within a natural stream belongs to the state, whatever the
source of that water."
The judge ruled that the state retains an easement over all
watercourses that includes the right to allow water to flow over
"The state's easement applies to all of its water in watercourses,
whether from CBM development or otherwise," Kautz ruled. The case,
filed in Campbell County, is Williams Production RMT Co. vs. William
P. Maycock II.
Some landowners don't want the coalbed methane water, particularly
from upstream activity where the downstream landowner doesn't have
any say over the development.
Environmental groups say a decision that gives industry the right
to water easements over private property would amount to giving it
condemnation powers, particularly given the poor quality of coalbed
However, Kautz ruled that the quality of coalbed methane water is
not an issue in the case before him.
"The issue here is only whether the water, if legally discharged
into Barber Creek, is water belonging to the state and subject to the
state's right of way," Kautz wrote in a six-page decision.
Kautz has yet to rule on whether Barber Creek and South Prong
Barber Creek on Maycock's ranch are watercourses.
Kautz denied Williams' motion for summary judgment on the issue,
and a hearing is scheduled in Campbell County District Court.
"There are a lot of people watching this," said Jill Morrison of
the Powder River Basin Resource Council. "I think industry is hoping
this will give them the right to run water wherever they want, and
the landowners' concern is that water coming down these ephemeral
drainages is causing a lot of problems. That's why they consider it a
trespass or a nuisance in many cases."
Landowners feel they're losing their property rights, Morrison
said. "There's a lot of concern among landowners over the taking
that's going on of private property and the loss of control over what
happens on your property," she said.
But Bruce Hinchey, president of the Petroleum Association of
Wyoming, said that the right to release water from gas drilling down
drainages is critical to the industry.
If drillers can't release it, Hinchey said, "I'm not sure what you
would ever do with the water."
Hinchey emphasized that before water from drilling operations is
released, it must be tested and meet government standards.
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