Saturday, March 29, 2008

Coalition advises that coal bed methane production will offer few benefits to the region

Prince Rupert City council received the 411 this week, on a proposed coal bed methane development by Shell Oil in the Klappan watershed.
As the Skeena Watershed Conservation coalition provided an in depth presentation on how the development could adversely affect the local environment.

The coalition's website provides a much fuller presentation of the issue, including a photo gallery and calendar of upcoming events.
The issue has become newsworthy in the lower mainland media, with items found in The Tyee and the Georgia Straight as well as the mainstream Vancouver media.

The Daily News provided a full examination of the Coalitions presentation in Thursday’s paper.

Activist calls on council to fight gas projects
By Leanne Ritchie
The Daily News
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Pages one and two

If Shell Canada proceeds with coal bed methane development in the Klappan, the company would need to develop thousands of wells that would pump up salty water full of heavy metals to the surface of a wilderness area that encompasses the birthplace of the province's greatest salmon bearing rivers, a critic is warning.

Speaking about plans for coal bed methane development at this week's city council meeting, Shannon McPhail executive director of the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition told Prince Rupert city council that following a four-year long quest for answers about possible coal bed methane development in the Klappan, the information doesn't paint a pretty picture.

"We know there is good development and bad development. We aren't anti-mining or anti-oil and gas ... but we believe developments must pose minimum risk and maximum opportunities for the communities and with coal bed methane, the opposite is true," she said.
There is little economic benefit, very poor social benefit and it is the company that walks away with the money in their pocket.”

The Klappan is an area located 180 km north of Hazelton and includes the source of the Skeena, Nass and Stikine rivers – all major salmon-bearing streams that support commercial and sport fishermen as well as being important for food provision and culturally for numerous First Nations.

Four years ago, the province of B. C. granted Shell 800,000 acres of tenure in which it is has exclusive rights to explore the potential of coal bed methane. In some areas, this tenure sits less than 135 metres away from the headwaters of the Skeena.

Coal bed methane is natural gas that is trapped in coal seams but unlike natural gas, companies can’t just install a well to extract it, it requires specialized extraction.

In order to get at the gas, companies need to ease pressure that is trapping the gas in the coal seam. This pressure usually exists in the form of large underground lakes known as aquifers.
“More than 80 per cent of coal seams do contain water and the majority of those contain toxic water,” she said.

“They need to drill a lot of wells, said McPhail, “Shell estimates they would need to drill anywhere between 1,500 and 10,000 wells.”

Each well would require two pipelines, one to capture gas and the other to pump out water. Around each well, the company would have to clear an area ranging in scale from the size for a baseball field to a football field in order to maneuver heavy drilling equipment.

For every four to 10 wells, they would also a compressor station, which would operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week and be slightly less noisy than a jet engine, she claimed.

“All this would take place in a pristine wilderness area. It would be all new development,” said McPhail.

During the life of a well, it would never stop pumping out water.

“Once you drill the holes, it pretty much becomes a large plumbing project,” said McPhail.
Each well will produce between 10,000 and 20,000 gallons of water per day. Most companies have to remove three and half Olympic-sized swimming pools worth of water before they even begin commercially producing methane. This water usually contains two to three times the amount of salt that vegetation can tolerate, as well as heavy metals.

Last year, the provincial government announced that water would have to be re-injected into deep wells, up until then water was allowed to be disposed of in rivers and streams.

“This announcement has not yet been legislated and since the announcement the province has allowed StormCat Energy in the Fernie area to surface-discharge into the Elk River. We asked why that was allowed to happen despite the promise and we were told that the company was in the exploration phase during the announcement and it was unfair to alter the rules once the company already had tenure. The problem is that all 11 coal bed methane projects were in the exploration phase during that announcement.”

In the meantime, methane migrates and not all the gas comes up the well bore, some escapes in the air while in Alberta some methane released from coal seams has been found to migrate into other nearby water supplies.

“In the Sacred Headwaters, there is an estimated 8.1 trillion cubic feet and Shell would capture about 1.6 trillion. The rest would be vented in to the air,” she said.
She added that this is not comforting since it is 21 to 24 times more harmful than carbon dioxide emissions.

As for the impact on salmon, McPhail noted that coal bed methane has never been developed in a salmon-bearing region, but that it has been done in fish-bearing environments, some of which, she said, are no longer fish-bearing.

In Fernie, prior to surface water disposal, Encana conducted tests with trout fry and treated water. If 60 per cent of the fish survive over a 96-hour period, it is considered safe for surface disposal, she said. In all the trials, 100 per cent of the trout fry died, she told council.

“There are no cumulative or long-term impacts that were studied so we don’t know how it affects metabolic rate, reproduction of genetics. It’s kind of like saying, if smoking didn’t kill 540 per cent of the people in 96 hours, it must be safe,” she said.

As for benefits, she said studies have shown there are few for the communities in the region where coal bed methane takes place. A study in B. C. showed that based on all 11 projects under development, less than one per cent of employment came from local communities. And unlike mining, there is no profit sharing, no environmental assessment and rehabilitation planning done for restoration following the project’s termination, she said.

Seventy three percent of the revenue goes to the company, the province earns royalties and zero per cent go to landowners, First Nations and communities.

And as a final comfort, she noted the industry is regulated by the B. C. Oil and Gas Commission, which is 100 per cent funded by industry.

“It’s kind of like the fox watching the hen house,” she said.

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