While coalbed methane (CBM) has proven to be a valuable resource, Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and his government have had their hands full with CBM developers in Canada and Wyoming, whose projects could affect the water quality of some of Montana's major rivers in addition to the state's wildlife.

Recently Schweitzer's office received a heads-up letter from BP America Inc., stating that the energy giant is studying the potential for CBM development in the Crowsnest coal field in southeastern British Columbia, just north of Glacier National Park. Crowsnest is situated in the Flathead Basin drainage area, which straddles the Montana/British Columbia border.

In a May 2007 letter to Schweitzer, John B. Rigg Jr., public affairs manager of BP's Rockies region, said BP will spend three to five years and $100 million to evaluate the Crowsnest prospect, which he characterized as a "tremendous opportunity for future natural gas development."

BP says the area for potential development encompasses more than 190 square miles and is estimated to contain 12 Tcf of natural gas resource "in place." The company plans to engage in "comprehensive public consultation, technical and commercial appraisals, and a company-mandated environmental and social impact assessment" before commencing with any development. BP vowed to communicate with Montana as plans for Crowsnest unfold.

Rich Moy, water management bureau chief for the Montana Department of Natural Resources, told NGI that "Montana is not against CBM development, but development of this pristine and treasured area could lead to sedimentation of Flathead Lake and heavy metal contamination, which could affect fisheries."

Moy added that Flathead Basin also has the highest density of grizzly bears found anywhere in the interior of North America and bears do not do well with the disruption caused by "football field-sized drilling pads and the extensive road patterns" related to energy development.

Moy noted that Schweitzer plans to discuss management of the Canadian Flathead Basin with British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell at a June 8-9 meeting of regional governors to be held in South Dakota.

On the southern front, Schweitzer has held steadfast for the protection of the water quality of the Tongue River headwaters by maintaining strict water quality standards for CBM development in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming. Water from the Tongue River travels north into Montana, where it joins up with the Yellowstone River.

Last August, four gas producers sued Montana in an effort to overturn water quality standards that impose what the producers say are "excessive" requirements on the quality of water exiting CBM development areas in the Powder River Basin (see Daily GPI, Aug. 2, 2006).

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