Saying “no” to coalbed methane

Opposition to coalbed methane is growing wherever it is being proposed. From Alberta to New Mexico, from the Powder River in Wyoming, to Fernie, Iskut, Hat Creek, Princeton and Smithers in BC. No matter the locale, people are taking a look at the impacts of CBM as saying,  “Hold on a minute.”
Demands from locals potentially impacted by CBM are similar across the province. Communities, landowners, ranchers and First Nations have consistently been telling the BC government and coalbed methane proponents like Shell Canada and Encana, “lets go slow, study the potential impacts on water, fish and wildlife, examine CBM’s footprint, re-assess the fact that municipal governments and First Nations get no royalties (but carry the impacts and social costs), and agree in advance that ‘no go’ is an option. And after all that is resolved, then we will consider discussing whether we want CBM in our neighborhoods.”

Unfortunately, government’s and industry are plunging ahead and seeking to drill thousands of new wells in magnificent landscapes like the Sacred Headwaters of the Stikine, Skeena, Nass, and Klappan watersheds in the Cassier region of northwestern BC, and in the Elk River watershed in the Kootenays.

It not enough that these magnificent areas are under threat. The government is actively promoting drilling through subsidies: Coalbed methane royalties were cut to half the normal royalties for natural gas, a new $50,000 per well royalty holiday was created, along with special subsidies for road building, summer drilling, and the list goes on.

As the chart below shows, this is not a good deal for locals, especially because the rationale is to let a few more fossil fuel companies get rich, inflate the revenues for Campbell’s Liberals so they can give more perks to their well-heeled supporters, and to allow the U.S. consumer to continue to burn thorough the worlds remaining resources at an unsustainable pace.


Given that studies in La Plata County, Colorado revealed that properties with a CBM well located on them have had a net reduction in sales value of 22%,  it is no wonder the Union of BC Municipalities passed a resolution in 2003 calling for no further coalbed methane development until better and more consultative laws and regulations were put in place.

As Alberta, and now BC, become the target for coalbed methane we need to pay particular attention to the lesson learned down south.

Tweeti Blancett, who ran George Bush’s campaign in New Mexico, recently visited Alberta to warn locals of the threat from CBM.  Ms. Blancett, a sixth-generation rancher, runs cattle across 13,000 hectares, but dense CBM drilling has damaged her land to such an extent that it has forced her off a spread worked by her family for more than a century.

Across the western U.S., from New Mexico to Montana, Blancett and other landowners have become vigorous vocal opponents of CBM, which they believe is turning once-productive and beautiful ranchland into permanently scarred industrial corridors.

Blancett says the combination of regulatory neglect and an industry prone to cutting corners is at the root of landowner problems. Given the embarrassingly weak oil and gas regulations and enforcement in BC, coalbed methane would likely cause similar problems here.

Luckily, grassroots people from across BC having already been taking the advice Ms. Blancett has been giving to Alberta landowners. Because of their great work, people in communities throughout BC are banding together to “learn as much about CBM before the province becomes overrun with development.”

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