P R E S S R E L E A S E
*For Immediate Release- May 28, 2004*
Fernie Citizens Concerned About Coalbed Methane
Applaud Cancellation of Flathead Valley Coal Mine Project
Local Citizens Group Urges Provincial, State and Federal Governments to Extend Decision to British Columbia’s Plans for Coalbed Methane Extraction in Same Rocky Mountains Area
FERNIE, B.C. – The cancellation of a coal mine project proposed for the Flathead Valley above the British Columbia-Montana boundary was welcomed today by Citizens Concerned about Coalbed Methane.
The announcement by Richard Neufeld, Minister for Energy and Mines, came unexpectedly in an encounter with journalists following his breakfast meeting here with a number of selected local residents invited to discuss his government’s plans to extract methane gas from the nearby coalfields of the Rocky Mountains.
Neufeld told journalists that he and Premier Gordon Campbell had decided to cancel the existing claim of Cline Mining to the Flathead coal deposit and to issue a cabinet order placing it out of bounds for any future mining claims. Such an executive order provides no permanent protection, and could be undone by this or any future provincial cabinet, he acknowledged. Neufeld insisted that it would not be reversed by the current Liberal government.
The Cline Mine proposal was publicly objected to in written declarations by the United States Department of State, Montana’s federal senators Max Baucus and Conrad Burns, State Governor Judy Martz, the Montana Flathead Basin Commission, and the City of Fernie. The concerns were over the impact the two proposed open pit mines would have on the environment both in British Columbia and downstream in Montana. The U.S. government told Canada that it stood by a 1988 assessment of the Canada-U.S. International Joint Commission (IJC) which concluded that coal mining in the Flathead Valley would violate the Boundary Waters Treaty between the two countries.
Neufeld cited as reasons for the decision his government’s review of the 1988 IJC assessment and separate concerns about the impact coal mining could have on adjacent Waterton National Park in Canada and Glacier National Park in the United States.
“We applaud this decision to recognize the very special importance of the Rocky Mountain landscape and wildlife,” said Ted Ralfe, spokesperson for Citizens Concerned about Coalbed Methane. “We hope that all of the governments involved will now apply the same logic to British Columbia’s plans to open this very same Flathead Valley to methane extraction”.
The area of the Rocky Mountains targeted by B.C. for coalbed methane extraction is prime habitat for large numbers of grizzly bears, black bears, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, lynx, cougars, and wolves. The Crowsnest Coalfield identified by the government as a priority for coalbed methane extraction extends from the Alberta border to the Columbia Valley. The provincial government estimates it contains 12 trillion cubic feet of methane gas — equivalent to six months of the current consumption in the United States. Methane is commonly marketed as “natural gas.”
In a meeting with local elected officials Thursday evening, Neufeld dismissed concerns that coalbed methane extraction could contaminate drinking water aquifers, as has been documented near coalbed methane fields in Colorado. The minister said it was common to be able to ignite the methane escaping from well water in the rural areas around Lethbridge. “It’s natural,” he told assembled councillors of Fernie, Sparwood and Elkford.
The minister also rejected a unanimous resolution of Fernie Council that a comprehensive social, economic, and environmental impact assessment be undertaken before coalbed methane development proceeds.
Consequently, Citizens Concerned About Coalbed Methane, the East Kootenay Environmental Society are undertaking their own scientific study to establish a baseline of environmental data that can be used to measure the eventual impact of coalbed methane extraction. The design of the study and initial data collection is being funded by the personal donation of $20,000 by Fernie resident Michael Dwarkin.
Neufeld’s staff also revealed Thursday that the boundaries of a block of land to be auctioned for coalbed methane exploration have been adjusted to remove any well sites from the views from the Fernie Alpine Resort ski area.
“This is an acknowledgment of the ugly impact coalbed methane extraction has on the landscape,” said Ralfe, “but hiding it from the view of skiers does not solve the problems of habitat destruction and increased mortality of wildlife”.
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