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WWRC 97-05aa
Assessing the Cumulative Impacts of Surface Mining and Coal Bed Methane Development on Shallow Aquifers in the Powder River Basin, Wyoming


Large scale surface coal mining has been active along the cropline of the Wyodak-Anderson coal seam since approximately 1977. Groundwater impacts due to surface mining of coal and other energy related development is a primary regulatory concern and an identified deficiency in the Wyoming coal program. The modeled aquifers are the upper unit (coal) of the Paleocene Fort Union Formation and the overlying Eocene Wasatch Formation. A regional groundwater model using MODFLOW covering 790 square miles was constructed to simulate the impacts from three surface coal mines and coal bed methane development occurring downdip. Assessing anisotropy of the coal aquifer, quality checking of in situ aquifer tests and database maintenance and integrity were precursors to modeling. Data was kriged to develop the structural model of the aquifers. A GIS was utilized to facilitate storage, analysis, display, development of input modeling arrays and assessment of hydrologic boundaries. Model output presents the predicted impacts of likely development scenarios including impacts from coal bed methane development and surface coal mining through anticipated life of mining and surface mining impacts independent of gas development.

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