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BP drilling of test methane well raises protest in Fernie

By Kelly Cryderman, Calgary Herald, July 14, 2010

Fernie-area residents are taking to the streets Wednesday to protest BP’s drilling of a test coal bed methane well leading to a potentially larger project they say could ruin the natural landscape and wildlife corridor.

Based on two past protests, organizers expect dozens to show their opposition to the BP’s Mist Mountain project, located just east of Fernie and Sparwood in the Crowsnest coalfield.

“You don’t think of Fernie with large drills and wells, you think of it with beautiful scenery,” said Courtnay Sopko, a volunteer with the group East Kootenay Citizens Concerned about Coalbed Methane.

“Part of the question is: are we going to lose a lot of that?”

BP received approval from the BC Oil and Gas Commission in April and began drilling the test well on June 30.

Potentially, the project could see wells spring up over 500 square kilometres that produce for five decades. There has been little in the way of coal bed methane development in the area up until now.

Residents point to the track record of coal bed methane development in other parts of North America, including Wyoming where landowners have expressed concerns about groundwater loss and sodium-laden water discharge.

However BP spokeswoman Melanie Ostopowich said the company has spent three years conducting environmental and geological studies in the area.

“We’ve been meeting with local stakeholders, held numerous open houses,” she said.

“We definitely understand the public has questions and concerns about safety. It is our first priority.”

Ostopowich said the test well in an old logging area is the only part of the project that will go ahead this year. The first goal is to test and sample subsurface coals.

“This is still a proposed project,” she said of a move toward a broader undertaking.

“The next steps will depend on the results of this test drill that we’re conducting right now.”

© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald

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