Fernie Leaders Oppose Coal-Bed Methane Work

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – The City Council in Fernie, British Columbia, is speaking out against potential coal-bed methane development north of Glacier National Park, development that raised concern in Montana over worry about possible harm to water in the state.

In a resolution passed this week, the Fernie City Council said the province should not issue leases that energy company BP would need to explore for coal-bed methane in British Columbia’s Elk Valley. Its Elk River sends water into Montana’s Lake Koocanusa.

The resolution, which passed unanimously, says there are too many unknowns about ways in which coal-bed methane development could affect the environment in the nearby Fernie area, which is about 50 miles north of Montana. Fernie’s important tourism industry could be jeopardized, the council said.

“This (area) is mountainous, well treed, full of wildlife and there is lots of water, both surface streams and underground,” Councilman Alan Young said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “There are a lot of unanswered questions about coal-bed methane. We don’t want to be the guinea pig to find out whether you can do it in this sort of area.”

The British Columbia Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources said provincial officials will consider the Fernie opposition to BP’s potential Mountain Mist project. Some communities have indicated they either support the project or have a neutral position in it, ministry spokesman Graham Currie said.

A call seeking comment Tuesday from BP in Calgary, Alberta, was not returned immediately.

In Montana, concerns about the well-being of Glacier have been prominent in comments about potential industrial development in southeastern British Columbia. Besides the possibility of coal-bed methane development, alarm arose over talk of a new coal mine just north of the park.

Provincial officials have said no clearances have been given for the coal mine nor for the coal-bed methane exploration, and no project can advance without satisfying strict requirements for environmental protection.

“Hopefully the strong opposition of British Columbians and Montanans regarding the harmful impacts of coal-bed methane in both the Elk and Flathead watersheds will force BP and the province of British Columbia to abandon this project in its entirety,” said Will Hammerquist of the National Parks Conservation Association in Whitefish.

In February, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said that potential coal-bed methane work on the Canadian side of the Flathead Valley had been dropped — a statement BP said was overly strong — and that the prospect of a project in the Elk Valley remained a worry for Montana. The Flathead Valley and the Flathead River system span the border.