The Powder River Basin is located in northeastern Wyoming and southeastern Montana. It is an area of approximately 55,000 square kilometers. Extraction of methane gas from the coal seams that underlie the Powder River Basin began in Wyoming in the late 1980s and in Montana in the late 1990s. About 100-200 barrels of co-produced water per day are being extracted from each active well in the Powder River Basin, which comes to over 1.5 million barrels of water per day for all the active coalbed methane wells in the Basin. Lab testing indicates that Powder River Basin co-produced water is potable but is high in sodium and other salts, especially in the western and northern parts of the Powder River Basin. Common water management strategies include discharge of co-produced water into drainages, stock ponds, evaporation ponds, or infiltration ponds; treatment to remove sodium; or application of the water directly on the land surface via irrigation equipment or atomizers. Problems may arise because much of the Powder River Basin contains soils with high amounts of swelling clays. As part of the USGS Rocky Mountain Geographic Science Center's hyperspectral research program, researchers are investigating whether hyperspectral remote sensing data can be beneficial in locating areas of swelling clays. Using detailed hyperspectral data collected over parts of the Powder River Basin and applying our knowledge of how the clays of interest reflect energy, we will attempt to identify and map areas of swelling clays. If successful, such information will be useful to resource and land managers.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Coalbed Methane Extraction and Soil Suitability Concerns in the Powder River Basin, Montana and Wyoming