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No announcement, Fernie office shut, website mute: is this continual public consultation?

Business goes on as usual for BP, despite its hand in the ongoing disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. On April 23—three days after the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill—BP was granted permission to drill for coalbed methane in the Elk Valley by the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission. BP has yet to officially inform residents of the Elk Valley exactly when it plans to begin drilling.

Breaking News Update.  BP has already started exploratory Drilling Program.  

Test-well drilling is the next step in BP’s controversial Mist Mountain project, which the City of Fernie came out against on April 14, 2008, and which the Union of British Columbia Municipalities, the B.C. First Nations Summit and six major Canadian environmental organizations have spoken against. The proposed drill site is at Fir Creek, a tributary of the Elk River, 14 kilometres southeast of Sparwood. The site is on Teck Coal land.

“Citizens of the Elk Valley have been quite clear that coalbed methane is ‘not ready for prime time’ in the southern Rockies,” said Ryland Nelson, Wildsight’s Southern Rockies program co-ordinator. “Coalbed methane is brutal on the landscape, public engagement has ground to a halt—and yet, here come the drills.”

The BP office in Fernie shut down on April 1, 2010 and no public announcement of any drilling plans has been forthcoming—even on the BP Mist Mountain website. “Supposedly, the information is ‘publicly available’,” Nelson said, “if you request it from the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission. But that’s not transparent. It just isn’t right to place the burden of due diligence on the public’s shoulders when it comes to staying on top of BP’s activities.

“Especially when actual drilling is expected to begin this summer.” Coalbed methane is a type of gas trapped underground in coal deposits. Getting it out of the ground is difficult, and in other places has caused serious environmental impacts. So far, more than 20 test wells have been drilled north of Elkford and water shown to be toxic to fish continues to be disposed of into an Elk River tributary.

Nelson said it’s still too early for any corporation to tap into the promise of coalbed methane in the southern Rockies, least of all BP with its dismal safety record—the worst of all the world’s oil and gas producers even before the Deepwater catastrophe, according to the U.S. Center for Public Integrity.

Nelson said development of the Mist Mountain project should not proceed until three things happen. “One, local communities must have a clear say in deciding where and how CBM projects proceed—that means more decision-making power to residents of the Elk Valley. “Two, all coalbed methane projects should undergo mandatory environmental assessments that address cumulative impacts. Right now, coalbed methane developments like Mist Mountain are exempt from the BC Enviornmental Assessment Process.

“Three, this government needs to provide sufficient funds for independent baseline research. Letting the licensee conduct its own environmental research makes no sense whatsoever, but that’s what’s happened so far.” Elk Valley residents were told by BP to expect open dialog and transparency, but it seems the global giant has gone publicly silent about its plans. Wildsight, private citizens and other organizations will be keeping an eye on what happens at Fir Creek. “We aren’t going away—we are vigilant, even if our government isn’t.”

For more information on Wildsight visit www.wildsight.ca

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