Coalbed methane stalled in British Columbia

Coalbed methane may kill canaries in coal mines, but British Columbians don’t want it to kill their communities. We don’t want coalbed methane anywhere near our homes, schools or watersheds.

In communities as diverse as Iskut, Fernie, Princeton, Hat Creek, and now Smithers, Telkwa and Hazelton, people have come together and stood up to coalbed methane promoters, oil and gas companies like Shell and Encana, and their sycophantic supporters in government. And they have won-so far …

Not one commercial coalbed methane operation is running in BC. Grassroots aboriginal and community activists should be proud of their amazing success in keeping the new industry from getting a foothold. Shell’s withdrawal from BC’s Southern Rockies is just the latest victory (see page 7).

The odds the activists faced were formidable.Provincial royalties-the money citizens like you and I get in return for the giveaway of public resources-were slashed to encourage coalbed methane exploration and drilling. A typical coalbed methane project may pay only 13% in royalties, minus a subsidy of $50,000 per well and $100,000 “offsets” to encourage summer drilling.

But the battle is not over. Gas prices are expected to move even higher, as North America’s fossil fuel addiction collides with the reality of diminishing supply. Driven by the subsidies, the demand for new supplies for unconventional gases like coalbed methane will intensify.

The upper and lower Skeena are likely to be the next hot spots in BC. Shell will continue to pressure to drill in the Sacred Headwaters of the Skeena, Stikine and Nass. And Outrider Energy, a small upstart with no track record and little apparent financial support, has renewed efforts to acquire coalbed methane drilling rights in Telkwa and Smithers in the lower Skeena.

It could be a turbulent spring and summer in the Skeena. Although Shell has told some Tahltan activists they will delay new drilling until 2007, they have told others they plan to drill this summer. And the Ministry of Energy and Mines is hinting it will soon sell coalbed methane drilling rights in Telkwa and Smithers to Outrider.
CBM HotspotsAs the map shows, the Skeena is not the only place at risk. Coalbed methane potential exists across BC, so rights to the farmlands of the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island, the serene ranchlands of Hat Creek near Cache Creek, and the lands around Merritt, Princeton, Hudson’s Hope, and the Tuya and Bowron Rivers could be sold at any time.

Coalbed methane is a gas trapped in coalbeds by enormous water pressure. This water must be removed to free the gas. Getting the water out of the ground is an expensive, environmentally destructive process.

British Columbians will continue to oppose drilling, because the impacts of coalbed methane can be devastating. And the more they learn, the more they oppose it.

So coalbed methane will continue to face local opposition wherever it is proposed in BC. Dogwood Initiative, Wildsight, and West Coast Environmental Law will continue to support local activists and First Nations with the information, advice, and resources they need to protect their communities.

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