The B.C.government has taken a landmark step in resolving concerns around coalbedmethane (CBM) development, according to environmental groups.
Their comments follow the B.C. government’s announcement on Friday of a two-yearmoratorium on CBM drilling in the Sacred Headwaters in the province’sNorthwest.
Conflict around CBM is proving costly to government and industry. “It’sundermining investor confidence and has stopped almost every attempt to produceCBM in B.C.,” says Merran Smith, Climate Director at ForestEthics. “Creatingspace to resolve conflict and determine where and how to proceed is the onlypragmatic solution.”
Due to harmful impacts on land, water and wildlife, only some CBM reserves canbe developed safely. Until now, British Columbia has generally granted CBM tenureswithout assessing whether communities are willing to accept these impacts.
“Kudosto the government for recognizing that Northwest residents have a right todecide whether CBM development happens in their watersheds,” says EricSwanson, Corporate Campaigner at the Dogwood Initiative. “Now, we need tomake sure that all B.C. communities facing CBM development can exercise thesame right. Coalbed methane is a provincial issue, not just a local one.”
As a next step, environmental groups are calling on the government to extend aCBM drilling moratorium province-wide in order to create space for rigorousrisk assessments and community decision-making. This would include the Elk Valley, where British Petroleum wasgranted a new CBM tenure, also on Friday.
“Announcing BP’s tenure at the same time as the Sacred Headwatersmoratorium was a regrettable move: one step forward, one step back,” saysCasey Brennan, Southern Rockies and Flathead Program Manager at Wildsight. “Residentsin the Elk Valley are very concerned that CBM couldcause heavy environmental damage. Without the time and process to resolve theirconcerns, we could find ourselves back in conflict.”
The B.C. government’s announcement also made reference to new wastewater regulationsthat would apply to CBM development. Coalbed methane production often removeslarge quantities of groundwater, which can contain high concentrations of saltsand heavy metals.
“We fully support the province’s commitment to improving wastewater rules,especially with a time-out on contentious development,” says JaiselVadgama, Senior Policy Analyst at the Pembina Institute. “We need bothbetter regulations and opportunities for communities to decide whether oil andgas activities are appropriate in their area.”
“Two out of three of Friday’s announcements showed leadership,” addsGreg Gowe, Staff Lawyer at West Coast Environmental Law. “If we moveforward on a robust legal framework to address key concerns, the stalemate onCBM could be brought to an end.”
Merran Smith – ForestEthics: (604) 816-5636
Eric Swanson – Dogwood Initiative: (250) 858-9990
Casey Brennan – Wildsight: (250) 423-0402
Jaisel Vadgama – The Pembina Institute: (604) 992-0686
Greg Gowe – West Coast Environmental Law: (604) 601 2508