The new front line for coalbed methane in British Columbia is the quiet village of Telkwa, located in the Bulkley Valley just south of Smithers. There, the BC government and Outrider Energy, an upstart Calgary company, have clashed with a concerned residents group over a proposed coalbed methane field just outside the Village limits.

“When folks learned what the coalbed methane industry has done to other communities across North America, it was clear they didn’t want to have anything to do with it,” says Lori Knor, who lives in the tenure area and has been organizing efforts to inform people about the development’s likely impacts.

Knor’s group, Citizens Concerned About Coalbed Methane, has been busy since it first heard about the potential sale of the project’s tenure. They started by holding a video night in Telkwa, which was attended by 60 people. Then, they hosted a public forum in nearby Smithers, which brought together a panel of proponents and critics to discuss the risks and benefits of coalbed methane. Almost 400 people showed up, packing the house.

One after another, residents at the forum stepped to the microphone to voice their concerns. They cited the potential for water contamination. The fragmentation of the rural landscape by pipelines, roads, and wells. The lack of effective regulations to protect the community’s values. The risk to the Skeena River’s wild salmon. 

They asked questions, too, and received little in the way of satisfactory answers. Feedback forms distributed at the event revealed strong opposition to the project, with 204 of 226 respondents opposing the project. Only one person expressed support.

A survey circulated by the group to gather residents’ feedback has found 97% in opposition to the project with 1400 people responding to date. These survey results will be submitted to government as evidence of the community’s lack of support for coalbed methane. The group also held a rally attended by over 400 people on October 21, which received province-wide media coverage.

The fact that the BC government has failed to convince a single BC community to roll out the welcome mat for coalbed methane might explain why it’s pouring unprecedented resources into marketing the Telkwa project. The Ministry of Energy and Mines has an entire community relations division working on it and Premier Gordon Campbell even granted an interview to the local paper for the purpose of extolling the project’s benefits.

Knor says it’s not making the project any more popular in the eyes of residents. “Coalbed methane development promises little for this community, yet at the same time, threatens our Valley’s most important assets.” 

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