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Wyoming pulls permits for abandoned experimental methane wells
Coal mine near Gillette, Wyoming. Image: Greg Goebel via Wikimedia Commons.

Wyoming pulls permits for abandoned experimental methane wells

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Wyoming officials have revoked state permits for hundreds of abandoned coal-bed methane wells that were part of an experiment some hoped would reverse a bust in coal-bed methane.

The 413 wells in Campbell County now are a long list of wells the state plans to plug and clean up over several years.

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality pulled the permits Friday. Patriot Energy, which held the permits, and High Plains Gas, which bought the Patriot wells in 2014, no longer are in business and don’t have working phone numbers.

The department hadn’t received water-quality updates required by the permits since 2013, according to department documents.

“They just weren’t meeting their permit requirements,” department spokesman Keith Guille said.

The permits allowed Patriot Energy, a subsidiary of Golden, Colorado-based Luca Technologies, to put nutrients into the wells to stimulate naturally occurring microbes that feed on coal and produce gas. The amount would be a trickle but costs would be low, proponents said.

Scientists at the University of Wyoming said it was a solid theory at the laboratory level. The question was whether it would work at an industrial level.

Ultimately, the technique failed to overcome a bust in the coal-bed methane industry that began when natural gas prices tanked in 2008. The bust caused several companies to walk away from their wells, leaving the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to plug and clean them up.

Over the past two years, the commission has overseen the plugging of 940 wells and conversion of 62 others to water wells for nearby ranchers. Another 2,900 wells remain on the list, according to state Oil and Gas Supervisor Mark Watson.

The commission plans to address the Patriot wells in 2017 or 2018, Watson said.

Keeping it clean: Using natural gas as a smart energy source.

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