Judge dismisses suit in Wyoming coal-bed methane water case
U.S. Water News Online
CHEYENNE, Wyo. — A judge has dismissed a lawsuit alleging the state has failed to uphold its obligations to protect Wyoming's groundwater.
District Judge Peter Arnold in Cheyenne ruled recently that officials have acted in accordance with the Wyoming constitution. He also said the issue of regulating water discharged by coal-bed methane wells would be better left to the state Legislature than to the courts.
“The court has authority to determine the constitutionality of statutes and laws,” Arnold wrote in dismissing the suit. “However, any decision by this court would not resolve the current case and controversy. Instead, any decision by this court most certainly will evoke political, administrative, philosophical and/or academic debate or argument.”
Groundwater is a byproduct of drilling for coal-bed methane.
Two Campbell County ranching families sued the Wyoming Board of Control and the state engineer's office, arguing that inadequate regulation of water discharged by coal-bed methane wells damaged their ranches.
“It was a question of whether the review was something left to a court or the Legislature. We felt it should not be left to the court, and Judge Arnold agreed,” said Pete Michael with the state attorney general's office.
The plaintiffs have until June 30 to appeal if they choose to do so.
“Obviously we're disappointed, because we want to get to the merits of the case,” said the plaintiffs' attorney, Kate Fox, of the firm Davis and Cannon.
Fox said the judge's order seemed to agree with the plaintiffs' argument that the court has jurisdiction to review the complaint.
Two of the plaintiffs, Bill and Marge West, alleged that minerals in water discharged by coal-bed methane wells killed plants and damaged the soil on their ranchland.
West said she and her husband hadn't decided whether to appeal, In the meantime, West said, the situation hasn't changed much in the Powder River Basin. She said ranchers are still prone to losing water wells to the production of coal-bed methane.
“The state engineer is supposed to consider the interests of all the parties involved - landowners and people who lease the land,” West said. “But he was considering the methane companies and not considering any of the people who have use of the land.”
The other ranching couple in the lawsuit, L.J. and Karen Turner, claimed that methane drilling has drawn down the water table, damaging their water wells.
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