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Report: Groundwater levels are falling in parts of Wyoming's Powder River Basin

Coal stockpiled at a power plant.

A new report shows groundwater levels at some sites in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin have dropped by an average of about 90 feet due to natural gas production, and decades could pass before levels recover.

The Wyoming State Geological Survey analyzed data about the state’s Tertiary sandstone aquifers from 2017 through 2020 and determined groundwater level recovery times at sample sites varied widely from 20 to nearly 150 years.

Operators produce natural gas from coal by pumping out water captured in deposits of coal between layers of rock. Among the effects of extraction are lowered water levels, which can disrupt the habitat of native plants and wildlife and lead to less water available for livestock, crops and other human use.

The report says the of recovery times are “best-case estimates” because they’re based on conditions over the last decade. Among the factors that can affect groundwater levels and their recovery are climate conditions like drought and snowpack.

Kayla writes about energy policy, the oil and gas industry and new electricity developments.