Recent History – 2002-2003
October 1, 2003 — Gary Rusak, Daily News Staff
It is B.C.’s obligation to learn from the mistakes that the United States made in their 20-year history of mining coalbed methane. That was the message Mary Coward of the Ministry of Energy and Mines delivered to a sparsely populated Science and Community Environmental Fund public workshop at the Curling Rink Tuesday evening as part of the Oil and Gas Conference.
“There is no doubt that a number of landholders had had very bad experiences with the coalbed methane production, especially during the construction phase,” she said. “The lesson is that we have to ensure strong and effective regulations that will protect the community.”
Coward joined North Peace MLA Richard Neufeld on a fact-finding mission to coalbed methane production plants in Alabama, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico last year. The issue is particularity relevant as there is an estimated 90 trillion cubic feet of coalbed methane in B.C. It was a major factor in the recent $418 million oil and rights sale last month. There is reported to be a large coalbed methane source around the Hudson’s Hope area.
The process of mining coalbed methane, a clean burning natural gas, is quite different than traditional oil drilling. The production involves finding a coal seam and pumping water out of the area reducing the pressure and releasing the valuable gas. However, in some cases the water is toxic and the disposal of it has become problematic in some areas of the U.S. As well the infrastructure needed to mine the gas is quite extensive and communities in the U.S. have complained about excessive noise and destruction of the landscape.
Coward said that although there have been problems in the U.S. with the proper approach B.C. could have a more successful program. “We saw areas where the wells were quite obtrusive,” she said. “But, we also saw wells where the companies did their best to mitigate the impact.”
Communities that will be affected by coalbed methane exploration can hope that the government takes Coward’s recommendation to heart. “The communication has to be strong between the government, community and industry,” she said. “We have to make an effort to encourage the best practices from industry.”