Water, Air, and Soil Pollution

, Volume 168, Issue 1, pp 33-57

First online:

Effects of Coal-Bed Methane Discharge Waters on the Vegetation and Soil Ecosystem in Powder River Basin, Wyoming

  • M. StearnsAffiliated withU.S. Geological Survey, National Research Program Email author 
  • , J. A. TindallAffiliated withU.S. Geological Survey, National Research Program
  • , G. CroninAffiliated withDept. Biology, Univ. Colorado
  • , M. J. FriedelAffiliated withGeologic Division, U.S. Geological Survey
  • , E. BergquistAffiliated withDepartment of Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Colorado State University

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Coal-bed methane (CBM) co-produced discharge waters in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming, resulting from extraction of methane from coal seams, have become a priority for chemical, hydrological and biological research during the last few years. Soil and vegetation samples were taken from affected and reference sites (upland elevations and wetted gully) in Juniper Draw to investigate the effects of CBM discharge waters on soil physical and chemical properties and on native and introduced vegetation density and diversity. Results indicate an increase of salinity and sodicity within local soil ecosystems at sites directly exposed to CBM discharge waters. Elevated concentrations of sodium in the soil are correlated with consistent exposure to CBM waters. Clay-loam soils in the study area have a much larger specific surface area than the sandy soils and facilitate a greater sodium adsorption. However, there was no significant relation between increasing water sodium adsorption ratio (SAR) values and increasing sediment SAR values downstream; however, soils exposed to the CBM water ranged from the moderate to severe SAR hazard index. Native vegetation species density was highest at the reference (upland and gully) and CBM affected upland sites. The affected gully had the greatest percent composition of introduced vegetation species. Salt-tolerant species had the greatest richness at the affected gully, implying a potential threat of invasion and competition to established native vegetation. These findings suggest that CBM waters could affect agricultural production operations and long-term water quality.


atmospheric methane aquifer contamination coal bed methane reservoirs water quality