Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2011

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Mark W. Williams

Second Advisor

Patricia Limerick

Third Advisor

William Travis


Natural gas development is controversial for a number of reasons; among them, the potential harm done to groundwater by way of aquifer drawdown or contamination. The concealed nature of groundwater makes it a frequent subject of environmental conflict in general, and factual disputes in particular, as demonstrated here by case studies from Colorado's coalbed methane (CBM) basins. In the Northern San Juan Basin, a dispute is ongoing over whether groundwater extraction will impact regional hydrology. In the Raton Basin, a dispute is underway over a single domestic well, which became unusable following the hydraulic fracturing of a nearby CBM well. In the analysis presented here, I discuss the uncertainties specific to groundwater that exacerbate factual disputes over impacts. I also present ways that researchers might engage in these disputes. I present a neutral fact-finding effort using isotopic/geochemical tracers and a monitoring guide designed to enable joint fact-finding at individual wells.