Mining above Glacier: the sequel 

Many in the Flathead Valley breathed a sigh of relief when the government of British Columbia, Canada, announced in late May that it would scrap plans for a private coal mining project north of Glacier National Park due to concerns about water quality in the downstream Flathead River system. That relief may have been premature, as David Molinski, assistant deputy minister for oil and gas in British Columbia’s Ministry of Energy and Mines, told the Independent this week that he expects a coal bed methane “pilot project” of about 30 wells to take root near the same headwaters once a company has secured the rights to explore.

The Ministry of Energy and Mines will award exploration rights to the highest bidder on Aug. 25.

In Montana, coal bed methane projects have led to water tables dropping by as much as 200 feet, and the process creates waste water with high levels of ammonia and sulfate, which must be discharged into drainages, stored in holding ponds to seep into the ground, or released into the aquifer.

Molinski says environmental regulations will be met and the local community will be consulted.

“We’ll be engaging with the stakeholders who have an interest in the project,” says Molinski, who met with Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality in Helena on July 14 to address concerns.

The prospect of coal bed methane projects north of Glacier isn’t sitting well with Robin Steinkraus, executive director of the Flathead Lakers, a non-profit dedicated to protecting Flathead Valley water quality. Steinkraus says that many people have confused this project with the canceled coal mine.

“I heard many people say, ‘I thought the threat was over,’” Steinkraus says. “Political pressure was what helped stop the coal mine, so we hope everybody’s remaining vigilant.”

The Flathead Lakers will meet to discuss this issue with keynote speaker David Thomas, a Fernie, British Columbia, city councilman and outspoken defender of water quality, on Tues., July 20, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the KwaTakNuk Resort in Polson.

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