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B.C. government awards tenure to BP Canada for coalbed methane project



6 December 2008
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VANCOUVER, B.C. — The provincial government has given the green light to a contentious coalbed methane project in southeastern B.C.

Energy minister Richard Neufeld says BP Canada has been awarded tenure for its Mist Mountain project, near Fernie in the East Kootenay region.

“BP has been in the Kootenays for five years now, gathering information, doing environmental work and it’s come to a point where we actually need to look at that and say, ‘should we move forward with giving them tenure?”‘ Neufeld said.

“That doesn’t give them the right to do anything but continue doing their work.”

The project exploration will go ahead over the objections of Fernie city council, which passed a resolution earlier this year condemning the project.

The council said BP Canada has not engaged the community in a transparent manner and that there are considerable unknowns to the project, including short-term and long-term environmental impacts.

Fernie chief administrative officer Allan Chabot said the community is also concerned about the project’s economic and social effects.

“The city was looking for baseline inventory data, socioeconomic impact analysis and environmental prior to the grant of tenure,” Chabot said.

Neufeld downplayed that criticism.

“Fernie is not the only area in the Kootenays. There are a number of communities that they didn’t say yes, but they didn’t say no. Fernie is the only one that said no. That’s not uncommon to have that happen,” Neufeld said.

Neufeld said BP will be bound by some of the toughest regulations for unconventional gas development in North America.

He said the government will not allow companies to surface discharge produced water from coalbed methane projects.

“All produced water has to be reinjected deep below the surface. That’s a regulation that is no place else in Canada,” Neufeld said.

Several politicians across the border in the U.S. spoke out against the Mist Mountain project, including Montana Democratic Sen. Max Baucus, who has expressed concern the project could affect water quality and wildlife south of the border.

The province previously approved coalbed methane exploration in the Klappan area in northwestern B.C.

Shell Canada abandoned that project in the face of growing dissent from local First Nations and locals.

On Friday, Neufeld announced that Shell Canada and the Tahltan First Nation have reached a two-year moratorium on coalbed methane drilling in the Klappan area.

Annita McPhee, chairwoman of the Tahltan Central Council, said the moratorium gives the Tahltan Nation an opportunity to explore issues relating to coalbed methane projects.

“We must be fully informed of the potential challenges that come with its development to ensure they align with Tahltan laws and values,” McPhee said in a news release.

Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition executive director Shannon McPhail said she was relieved that the project in northeast B.C.’s Sacred Headwaters, near the Skeena, Nass and Stikine rivers, has been halted.

McPhail said the project’s risks just were not worth the gains.

“The only history to look at is the history of the coalbed methane industry itself and it’s got a devastating track record,” McPhail said.

“Coalbed methane has never been developed in a wild salmon bearing environment. So I don’t believe that the birthplace of three of the most important wild salmon rivers left in North America should be considered a lab testing site and that our wild salmon should be the guinea pigs.”

McPhail called the government inconsistent for announcing the moratorium at the same time as awarding another controversial project.

“I think it’s hypocritical of the government to give a moratorium in the Sacred Headwaters and not have it extend to the entire province,” she said.

“They’re saying one thing and what they’re doing in practice is a completely different thing.”

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