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Alabama has yielded to a court mandate requiring that fluids used to fracture coalbed methane reservoirs must meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's primary drinking water standard.
The case has obvious implications for 12 other states with coalbed methane production.
The Legal Environmental Assistance Foundation Inc. (LEAF) sued EPA in 1995, alleging the agency erred by not requiring Alabama to regulate coalbed fracturing under the Safe Drinking Water Act's Underground Injection Control (UIC) program.
As it does elsewhere, EPA had delegated its UJC powers to the state. The Alabama Oil and Gas Board did not regulate fracturing, consistent with EPA's interpretation that the UIC program only covered wells whose "principal function" was the injection of fluids into the ground.
In 1997, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against EPA and the state, ruling that fracturing was not a drilling technique because it occurred after a well had been drilled (OGJ, Sept. 15, 1997, p. 25).