Baucus Slams BP Execs Over Mining Proposal

By Beacon Staff

In a Washington D.C. meeting with executives for British Petroleum, U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., issued his harshest rebukes yet for BP’s coalbed methane exploration proposal in the Canadian Flathead, according to a release sent from his office Monday afternoon. Baucus also called for public meetings in Kalispell to allow Montanans to weigh in on the project.

BP can expect “a knock-down, drag-out fight” and “a massive and unpleasant fight from Montana that will end badly” Baucus told BP America Chairman and President Bob Malone and BP Canada chief Randy McLeod, according to the release.

Baucus’s threats refer specifically to BP’s intent to file an exploratory permit for what it calls its “Mist Mountain” coalbed methane (CBM) extraction project in southeastern British Columbia.

The site of the project sits in the headwaters of the North Fork of the Flathead River. Scientists for the University of Montana’s Flathead Lake Biological Station fear that harmful byproducts of CBM mining projects will flow downstream and degrade water quality in the Flathead River and Flathead Lake. The biggest byproduct of CBM extraction is the wastewater, located underground along the methane seams, which must be pumped out to get at the gas. The wastewater is typically high in contaminants such as barium, copper, iron, and ammonium. Because the area is so remote, trucking the wastewater out would be difficult. BP has suggested it would re-inject the wastewater back underground, but UM scientists believe the steep, rugged terrain and hydrology make re-injection almost impossible.

BP is expected to file for an exploratory permit to dig test wells in what’s called the Crowsnest Coal Field, an area that spans 190 square miles, covering much of the B.C. portions of the North Fork of the Flathead as well as the adjacent Elk River Valley, which drains into Lake Koocanusa near Libby.

Baucus is also working to stop a separate coal mining project proposed by the Cline Mining Co., in the same area and is working with U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. to shepherd $1.25 million through Congress to collect baseline environmental data in the area, the release said.