Two Montana senators met with BP officials last Monday to express their opposition to the energy company’s plan to drill for coalbed methane (CBM) on the Canadian side of the Flathead River basin, saying the wastewater from the activity would pollute Montana water.

BP can expect “a knock-down, drag-out fight” if it moves forward with its proposal to tap CBM in the Canadian Flathead area, said Montana’s senior Sen. Max Baucus. Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) issued a similar warning to BP. The two met separately in Washington, DC, with several BP executives, including BP America President Bob Malone and BP Canada Chief Randy McLeod.

Baucus said BP can expect “a massive and unpleasant fight from Montana that will end badly” for the company if it files an exploratory permit for its Mist Mountain CBM extraction project in British Columbia — near North Fork of the Flathead River, which borders Glacier National Park and runs into Montana’s Flathead Lake.

Baucus contends that CBM development in the region could have devastating consequences to fish, wildlife and the recreation industry downstream in Montana. “I’ve been fighting to protect water quality and wildlife in the Flathead Valley for 30 years. I’m not about to give up now,” he said. “We’re going to do whatever it takes to stop energy development north of our border. We’re pulling out all the stops. The gloves are off.”

Tester is “firmly united” with Baucus in opposing any BP plans that could harm the ecosystem in northwestern Montana, a spokesman said.

Baucus asked BP to conduct public meetings in Kalispell in the northwestern part of the state to allow Montanans to weigh in on the proposal. Kalispell is located seven miles north of Flathead Lake, which is the largest natural freshwater lake in the continental U.S. west of the Mississippi River.

The most significant byproduct of CBM extraction is wastewater that can contain high levels of harmful contaminants such as barium, copper, iron and ammonium, Baucus said. Canada has no law requiring that CBM wastewater be reinjected back into the ground, he noted. Even so, the Flathead Lake Biological Station in Montana says reinjection would be technically impossible due to the hydrology and rugged terrain in the region.

BP is expected to file for a permit next year in southern British Columbia to drill up to six exploratory wells in what’s called the Crowsnest Coal Field, an area that spans 190 square miles and includes the Flathead River that pours into Montana.

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