North Vancouver, BC
Posted - 11/20/2007 : 6:13 PM
| More coalbed methane development? You betcha. The first mention of this project was almost two months ago. I just found out about it. Yet another pristine wilderness threatened by energy development. But BC has some very ambitious greenhouse gas goals, so it's okay right?
Seize the 'moment' for the Flathead Valley
CPAWS website. Download Global TV news report here too.
International pressure is building to save B.C.'s chunk of this wonderful piece of wilderness from industrial pollution
Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society
Special to the Sun
Saturday, October 06, 2007
Sometimes there is a moment in the history of a province -- a pure, perfect moment -- to do something extraordinary, like building a world-renowned children's hospital or hosting a green Olympic games.
Those moments define us. They uplift us. And they change us.
Part of governing this lovely province is recognizing and seizing those moments -- elevating the stature of British Columbians, inside and outside our borders.
Today, there is a "moment" lingering in the corner of our province, tucked deep into the Rocky Mountains. It is called the Flathead Valley and this wild place hosts the densest concentration of grizzly bears in the interior of North America.
But the growls of those grizzly bears seem tame in comparison to the international roars over proposed mining and energy activity near this special place. These international roars from powerful politicians and quiet conservationists are not without merit. The proposed industrial development could devastate something quite special.
British Columbia's Flathead Valley is strategically located. It sits like a puzzle piece beside a large, renowned park that straddles the Alberta/Montana border. Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park is a World Heritage Site and United Nations Biosphere Reserve. It is precious. And 75 years ago, Alberta and Montana had a "moment" when they joined these lands together to create the world's first peace park.
B.C. decided not to include our Flathead Valley in that "moment." Even today, quite shamefully, it remains largely unprotected. And it is not overstating to say that this specific valley, in this specific location, can't be more crucial for the continued functioning of one of the world's great protected areas.
Thus, the roars. Mining and industrial activity pose a clear and present danger to this strategic valley and the river that runs through it. The Flathead River forms its headwaters in our strategic Flathead Valley before wending its way through the American side of the peace park. Any pollution entering these headwaters or tributaries risks tainted water running through huge tracts of this United Nations protected area. Without question, this river must be protected at all costs.
Because of this obvious sensitivity, the nearby open pit mine and coal bed methane projects proposed in B.C. are both riddled with environmental problems. They are also riddled with political problems, as polluting a World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve would cause immediate, overwhelming and justified condemnation from the international community. To make matters worse, Canada and B.C. currently insist that these proposals should not be subject to the highest level of review under Canadian law or involve the participation of American scientists. That secrecy leads to suspicion and hard, lingering doubts over the integrity of future findings. But as the difficult rhetoric increases between our countries, B.C. remains cleverly poised to find a far-reaching solution -- a solution that could involve a great "moment" for the province.
B.C.'s deft diplomacy must start by abandoning these inherently risky coal and coal bed methane projects near the Flathead River. Then the land use planning for the area must change, as industrial desires and those of the strident hunting community currently override any and all thoughts of conservation. It's not impossible to have mining in the region -- there is lots of coal -- but it must be extracted in balance with conservation and local interests. The time has come to bring important conservation to the Flathead Valley and economic diversity to the dangerously resource-dependent economies of the Kootenays.
The question of how much conservation is needed in the area sits squarely with our provincial government as this current international debate rages around them. Their decision over the Flathead Valley, made in the quiet offices of our provincial legislature, could signal one of the great "moments" of this province's history, on this, the 75th anniversary of our neighbours' cherished Waterton-Glacier Peace Park.
Our Flathead Valley, whether convenient or not, is forever part of this stunning peace park that hosts one of the last intact, natural carnivore-prey relationships in North America. All the natural beasts still exist in this rugged, snowy place. This park, coined the "Crown of the Continent" in this month's National Geographic magazine, also supports the most varied collection of vascular plants in Canada. And yet, climate change is taking its toll, melting the American glaciers and fundamentally altering this park's ecosystems.
The United Nations can't protect Waterton-Glacier from these profound changes, but British Columbia can help mitigate the damage. The beasts in this biosphere need to move north and south and they need the remote Flathead Valley for the migration through this uneven Rocky Mountain corridor. It is exactly the "moment" to fully protect the Flathead Valley, with a diplomatic flourish, and formally fasten B.C.'s jewel onto this Crown of the Continent.
Full, federal park status will not hurt B.C.'s industrial interests, as there is currently no coal or coal bed methane production in the valley itself. An addition to this renowned park will attract jobs and tourism to the Kootenays. And it would highlight B.C.'s newfound, much-touted commitment to climate change.
Chloe O'Loughlin is the executive director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, B.C. chapter.
Also a response from a Montana Senator on November 6th.
Flathead projects a concern to Montana
Jon Tester, Special to the Sun
I recently read the article in The Vancouver Sun (Seize the 'moment' for the Flathead Valley, Oct. 6) about the Flathead Valley and the plans for the nearby coal mine and a coalbed methane development project there.
The proposed drilling and industrial development in the southeast corner of British Columbia threaten not only the Flathead Valley, but also the neighbouring world heritage site, Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.
As the "Crown of the Continent," Waterton and Glacier form the headwaters of rivers that drain to three different oceans. It is home to one of the world's most pristine and intact ecosystems. These two parks have become a worldwide symbol of international cooperation among three nations -- Canada, the United States and the Blackfeet Confederacy.
For 75 years the relationship between Alberta and Montana has been a model of trans-boundary ecosystem protection worthy of high praise around the world. Those lucky enough to live near the Peace Park know that protection of this environment cannot be confined to arbitrary borders, but rather be part of a larger regional view. But, as many of you know, the future preservation of this "Crown" hangs in the balance.
Montanans believe in working the land (I still farm the same land my grandparents homesteaded a century ago), and my state enjoys healthy coal and coalbed methane operations. But I think that all of us can agree that there are some lands in this world too pristine to forever compromise by irresponsible fossil fuel development.
I am concerned that the proposed projects by British Petroleum and Cline Mining Corp. in the southeast corner of your province will not adequately involve the international scientific community or be subject to the most rigorous level of environmental review provided under Canadian law.
Recently, Canadian ambassador Michael Wilson informed my office that Montana's request to assemble a joint review panel, as provided by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, had been denied. I respectfully request that trans-boundary effects be addressed before these projects move forward.
I encourage you to engage your local, regional and national representatives on this issue and I request that you work with your neighbours in Montana in finding long-term solutions to protecting this area and keeping our economies vibrant.
Senator Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006.
Edited by - eco_matt on 11/20/2007 6:29 PM
North Vancouver, BC
Posted - 02/28/2008 : 8:37 PM
| Well in short, earlier this week the Flathead Valley portion of BP's Mist Mountain proposal was removed from their tenure. The was hailed on the news as 'saving' the Flathead Valley. Unfortunately, removal of the tenure is only temporary and BP can simply re-apply for the land at a later date. This was their plan all along as they will continue to do environmental assessments in the area.
In addition, the removal was only for BP's tenure. Another company, Cline Mining Corp., is still applying for mining in the Flathead and is very determined to have the project go ahead.
The neighboring Elk River is also going to be effected by the Mist Mountain mining, however that valley is a little less pristine and isn't upstream of a World Heritage Site (like the Flathead and Glacier National Park).
B.C. coal play hits troubled waters
But Cline vows to push ahead despite BP Canada's decision to shelve Flathead River portion of its own project
Special to The Globe and Mail
February 28, 2008
VANCOUVER -- A metallurgical coal mine project proposed for the upper reaches of the Flathead River in southeastern B.C. is going full speed ahead despite widespread opposition across the border in Montana.
"We are actively working to get that done as quickly as we can," said Ken Bates, chief executive officer of Sudbury-based Cline Mining Corp.. "We are hell-bent to get it done and are pushing the government to get it done. I'm sorry they are taking so long."
Cline's determination to push forward comes as another company, BP Canada Energy Co., has deferred indefinitely the portion of its $3-billion coal bed methane project that lies in the Flathead River drainage.
BP Canada's decision, made at the request of the provincial government, was hailed by officials in Montana as the first step toward stopping all industrial development near waters that flow south from B.C. into Montana. Montana officials have said they will now focus their attention on Cline's coal mine proposal, with a view to getting that project turned down. The projects are widely opposed in Montana because of concerns about pollution entering the Flathead River.
Cline's proposed Lodgepole mine would produce two million tonnes of pulverized coal injection (PCI) coal over a 20-year mine life, with markets in Asia as the likely destination for the coal. Total proven and probable coal reserves are estimated at 40.6 million tonnes.
"We are active in the process for permitting," Mr. Bates said.
"We're trying very hard to progress this as quickly as we can because it's a really valuable piece of coal. This is the time to be developing mines, not sitting watching prices go up."
Cline began the permit process in B.C. in 2006, and has been conducting open houses and public meetings to get public comment. The company's original timeline, outlined on its website, had a mine in operation by the end of 2007.
The Canadian federal government has also indicated it will conduct a review of the project, a decision made at the urging of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Montana Senator Max Baucus, and Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer.
While the Flathead drainage has been taken off the table for the BP Canada coal bed methane project, no such decision has been made about the Cline coal mine proposal.
"It [the mine proposal] is in a preapplication stage for the B.C. environmental process," said Graham Currie, media spokesman with the B.C. Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources.
In a research note, Patricia Mohr, vice-president and commodity market specialist at Bank of Nova Scotia, is projecting a metallurgical coal price of $185 (U.S.) a tonne later this year and a tight market until at least 2010. Mr. Bates said his current projection for the Lodgepole mine is that it will be operating by 2010.
Mr. Bates said The Coal Association of Canada is trying to organize a meeting within the next few weeks with B.C. officials to try and kick-start the permitting process.
Mr. Bates was dismissive of Montana's concerns that industrial development in the Canadian headwaters of the Flathead would pose a serious pollution risk downstream from the mine.
"We're not on the Flathead," he said in an interview. "There's a little tiny stream that trickles down from the mountain - you can leap over it - and eventually, somewhere way downstream, it joins the Flathead. We're talking about the real upper reaches and we don't even have the plant there."
Mr. Bates explained that the processing plant for the proposed mine would actually be in the Elk River drainage. The Elk River also flows south into Montana.
Allen Wright, executive director of the coal association, expressed concern about the pressure coming from U.S. politicians trying to suggest that the U.S. portion of the Flathead River, and Flathead Lake into which it flows, is a pristine environment vulnerable to pollution from Canada.
"From what I understand, Flathead Lake is surrounded by a number of golf courses and there are problems with run-off chemicals from the golf courses and from agriculture," he said.
Cline Mining Corp. (CMK)
Close: 29.5 cents, down 2.5 cents
BP still mulling coal-bed extraction
By MICHAEL JAMISON of the Missoulian
Comment online To comment on this story, go to Western Montana 360.
KALISPELL - Canadian politicians and industry remain keenly interested in coal-bed methane reserves north of Glacier National Park, despite an announcement last week that such plans were off the table.
“We are still very interested in the potential of the Canadian Flathead,” said Jessica Whiteside, spokesperson for BP Canada. Her company already has begun collecting environmental data there, in anticipation of energy development, “and we do plan to continue those environmental studies.”
The reason BP Canada continues investing in the Flathead, even after British Columbia's government pulled that drainage out of a broader project, is because the company “will ask for coal-bed methane rights in the Flathead” sometime in the future.
So said Bill Bennett, a provincial lawmaker whose home district covers the area adjacent to the Montana line and immediately north of Glacier Park. “The company will conduct ongoing studies in the Flathead at their own expense,” he said, with the expectation that opening the area to exploration remains a distinct possibility.
That runs directly counter to an announcement made last week by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. After speaking with Bob Malone, head of BP's North American operations, Baucus reported the company's decision to abandon coal-bed gas exploration in the Flathead was a “final decision.”
Now, it appears not final at all, and the company's plans may not even be affected much by the recent decision.
And Baucus is not happy.
Baucus “takes BP at their word,” spokesman Barrett Kaiser said Wednesday. “But if it's true that BP isn't really halting plans to develop the Canadian Flathead, then they just lied to two U.S. senators, one of whom chairs the most powerful committee in Congress.
“We've come this far; there's no way Max will let them backtrack now. He'll hold them to their word, while working for a long-term solution that protects Montana's water quality, jobs and our way of life - for good.”
At issue is a wildland river drainage that runs south through critical big game and grizzly bear habitat, crossing into Montana and forming the western boundary of Glacier National Park before spilling into Flathead Lake. For decades, Canadian companies have sought to develop energy resources there.
A 1980s plan to open coal mines north of the park escalated to an international issue, culminating finally in a treaty-bound recommendation by a binational panel of scientists. Those 50 researchers - half from each country - concluded unanimously in 1988 that coal mining would cause unacceptable downstream effects to fisheries and to water quality. No mine should be built, they concluded, unless those effects could be mitigated.
“And the bottom line was no, they could not be mitigated,” said Rich Moy, who was part of that investigative panel and who now sits on the Flathead Basin Commission. A multi-agency group, the FBC was born of the Canadian dispute, and is charged with protecting the water quality of the Flathead Basin.
On Wednesday, the group met in Kalispell to discuss, among other things, last week's announcement that the Flathead was safe from BP coal-bed gas interests.
That news initially was delivered by Baucus, prior to a Feb. 21 town hall meeting on the Canadian Flathead. BP, the senator said, had reached a deal with provincial authorities to remove the Flathead from the company's larger “Mist Mountain” coal-bed gas project.
Last year, BP came to the province “with an interest in exploring the Crowsnest Coal Field,” Bennett said. The Crowsnest covers about 200 square miles, and straddles both the Elk and Flathead drainages.
The Elk - with five existing coal mines and a population of perhaps 20,000 - drains into Montana's Koocanusa Reservoir, plugged by Libby Dam. The Flathead, by contrast, “is certainly much more pristine,” Bennett said.
Which is exactly why Bennett says he urged provincial leadership to exclude the Flathead from BP's request for the right to explore. That right, called “tenure,” serves as a placeholder of sorts, reserving the resource for the company's exclusive use.
The decision to remove the Flathead from the tenure process was the province's, Bennett said, “but the company agreed to it.”
The plan, however, is not to set aside the Flathead, as many thought.
Instead, “we want to give BP the opportunity to prove to the people of the area” that energy development can occur without serious downstream effects, according to Bennett.
Granting tenure in the Elk, he said, provides that opportunity by serving as a sort of test case. Meanwhile, BP can continue to invest in baseline scientific study in the Flathead, so as to be ready once the track record is established in the Elk.
In fact, the recent decision to exclude the Flathead from the tenure process might not slow the company down very much. Last July, company spokeswoman Anita Perry said BP intended to begin exploration work first in the Elk, and then move into the Flathead in later years.
The only immediate plans for the Flathead, she said, were to collect baseline environmental data - which is exactly what the company will continue doing.
The removal of the Flathead from the tenure process leaves intact, for the most part, “the original proposal BP put forward in the first place,” Moy said.
The exception, of course, is the company does not have that tenure placeholder it wanted in order to guarantee their exploration rights there.
Clinton Whitney, chair of the Flathead Basin Commission, said last week's announcement was beginning to look more like a “tactical move” than a long-term commitment to the integrity of the wild Flathead.
“Until we have a permanent solution,” said FBC member Mickey Sogard, “we're just going to be facing this over and over again.”
But Bennett believes there's more to the provincial decision than meets the eye. Yes, he said, the company remains interested in the Flathead. And yes, the province is welcoming BP's continued investment in scientific analysis there. And yes, the province fully expects BP to come back with a tenure request in the disputed area.
“But the decision to remove the Flathead from the tenure process signals a recognition by our government that there is a difference between the Flathead drainage and the Elk drainage,” he said.
And for that, Will Hammerquist is grateful. “I'm glad that Bill Bennett recognizes the environmental sensitivity of the Flathead,” said the local representative for the National Parks Conservation Association. “I'm glad he and I can agree on that, and I applaud his efforts.”
Bennett, a self-described outdoorsman, said that when it comes to the Flathead, no one knows what might be permitted in the future. “We want to go slowly,” he said. “We want to go cautiously. The Flathead is, in fact, a very special place. I know that.”
Whether BP knows it, however, remains to be seen. Company officials would not say when they might request tenure again in the Flathead.
And as to last week's announcement, following the phone meeting between Baucus and BP's top boss, “Mr. Malone will not be doing any interviews,” a spokesman said. “We're not going to be commenting on any sort of conversation that we had with a member of the U.S. Senate.”
Tumbler Ridge, BC
Posted - 02/28/2008 : 11:44 PM
| Thanks for these important updates, Matt. It's an area I hope to visit this summer.