More Proposed Mining in the Canadian Flathead

By Beacon Staff

HELENA (AP) – Montana’s senior U.S. senator and several conservation groups said Friday they are alarmed anew about prospects for industrial work in southeastern British Columbia, north of Montana’s Glacier National Park.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said another mining project that he finds “potentially devastating” is planned at the headwaters of the North Fork Flathead River. The North Fork forms the western boundary of Glacier and flows into Montana’s Flathead Lake. Opponents of mining in the southeastern area of the province say the work could harm water quality downstream in Montana.

The National Parks Conservation Association and others Friday raised concern about a different matter. They expressed alarm about water disposal for what they said will be the province’s first commercial production of coal-bed methane. Extracting methane from coal seams brings forth salty water, and its disposal is controversial.

In a statement, Baucus said the government of British Columbia authorized a mining company to conduct test drilling, at a site called Cabin Creek, to gauge phosphate deposits. Drilling took place Oct. 18-23, according to Baucus, whose staff identified the company as Paget Resources Corp. A person who answered a call to the company’s office in Vancouver, British Columbia, said no one was available Friday to respond to Baucus’ comments.

Phosphate, commonly used in fertilizer, can contribute to the kind of nutrient problems that have harmed the Gulf of Mexico, Baucus said.

Before the prospect of phosphate mining surfaced, British Columbia officials were considering possible coal mining north of Glacier, by Canada’s Cline Mining Co., and potential coal-bed methane work by British Petroleum. Critics say both raise concerns about environmental effects in Montana.

Baucus, involved in stopping development of a Cabin Creek coal mine in the 1980s, said it is “time for Canadian officials to stiffen their spines and for once say ‘no.'”

Calls to the British Columbia Ministry of Energy and Mines were not immediately returned on Friday.

Apart from the possible phosphate project, the National Parks Conservation Association and others expressed alarm about what they said are plans for commercial coal-bed methane production some 80 miles away, in the Elk River drainage.

They said the provincial government plans to let coal-bed methane operations of Denver-based Storm Cat Energy Corp. discharge water containing salt and metals directly into the Elk River. It flows into Lake Kookanusa, which spans the British Columbia-Montana border.

Storm Cat is preparing to move its pilot coal-bed methane project into commercial production and continue surface disposal of the resulting water, rather than injecting the water into the ground, said Will Hammerquist, Glacier program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. A provincial energy plan ruled out surface discharge, Hammerquist said.

Many questions surround injection, and using that method to dispose of water with abundant salt and metals may not be appropriate, either, he said.

The larger issue is whether any commercial coal-bed methane development is suitable in the area, he said.

Neither provincial officials nor Storm Cat immediately returned calls Friday on the coal-bed methane issue.