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Montana Court Affirms Water-Quality Standards

(CN) - The Montana Supreme Court shot down an energy industry challenge to standards for water released from coal-bed methane mining.

The Montana Board of Environmental Quality in 2003 established numeric thresholds in some parts of the Powder River basin for environmentally harmful components of water released from coal-bed methane processes.

The process involves pumping water out of coal seams, which releases both pure natural gas and water with high amounts of dissolved solids.

After the environmental board defined components in this water as "harmful" in 2006, Pennaco Energy, a wholly owned subsidiary of Marathon Oil Co., challenged the rules in federal court.

The Montana Supreme Court upheld the district court's decision in favor of the environmental board, saying the regulatory changes between 2003 and 2006 were based in sound science.

The state's high court determined that changes were justified for consistency in protecting the state's waters - especially in light of the growing coal-bed methane industry, which every day releases millions of gallons of compromised water into Montana watersheds.

Justice Patricia O'Cotter wrote that the environmental board in 2006 merely corrected its 2003 error by establishing across-the-board numeric standards.

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