Checks in the mail 

On February 21, Sen. Max Baucus made an announcement that was music to the ears of conservationists seeking to protect the Flathead Valley’s watershed from coalbed methane (CBM) development in the Canadian Flathead.

British Petroleum, the energy giant that had been considering CBM development north of the border—potentially polluting the entire Flathead River—had just told Baucus in a phone conversation that the project was off the table for good.

The news, Baucus said, came straight from Bob Malone, president of BP America.

But in the immediate aftermath of the announcement, a funny thing happened. Two BP Canada officers announced that CBM development in the Flathead was, in fact, still on the table.

Clearing up the confusion at first sounded like it’d be a snap. As Baucus staffers described it, a letter from BP declaring that the mining deal was dead would arrive in a day or two.

It didn’t. Then, in a March 3 interview, Baucus spokesperson Barrett Kaiser told the Independent he expected the letter before the end of that week.

One month later, the letter still hasn’t arrived.

On March 31, Baucus spokesperson Sara Kuban responded to questions about the letter in an e-mail, writing, “Sen. Baucus is confident that BP will hold true to its promise and he has no reason to believe that BP would go back on their word.”

She added that, “There was no deadline for the letter—it was a guess on timing when we’d receive it. We should receive it soon.”

In a follow-up interview, Kaiser told the Independent Baucus has received additional assurances from Malone that BP would not seek development.

As to why the letter has yet to be sent, Kaiser said, “I have no idea.”

Reacting to the delay, Robin Steinkraus, executive director of the Flathead Lakers, an environmental group concerned specifically with the Flathead watershed, said, “We’re definitely concerned that there was some confusion about BP’s commitment, and we’d like to see that cleared up.”

“The last I heard,” she added, “was that there were some discussions going on between BP [America] and BP Canada.”
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