Montana Federal District Court Judge Rules Coal-Bed-Methane-Produced Water is Not a Pollutant
September 17, 2002
Northern Plains Resource Council v. Redstone Gas Partners
A Montana Federal District Court judge ruled in late August that the water produced by coal bed methane extraction does not constitute a pollutant under the federal Clean Water Act. Judge Sam E. Haddon, ruling from the bench, determined that the definition of “pollutant” contained in the Act does not include unaltered groundwater. The groundwater in question contained several chemicals included in the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory definition of a pollutant. Judge Haddon determined, however, that the Clean Water Act does not grant EPA the authority to expand the definition of pollutant beyond what is specified in the Act itself. Judge Haddon determined that the Act’s definition of pollution requires a “man-made or man-induced alteration” of the water being discharged. Because the water discharged from the coal bed methane production activities at issue was not altered in any fashion, it did not fall within the Act’s definition. Further, the Judge ruled that even if coal-bed-methane-produced water were considered a pollutant, the Montana program implementing the Clean Water Act exempts unaltered groundwater from the Act’s permit requirements. The Northern Plains Resource Council appealed this decision and requested expedited review before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.