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Protected Area Slated for Coal Bed Methane Developmet

Alberta Wilderness Association

News Release: October 13, 2004

With the approval of the Alberta Government, the coal bed methane (CBM) industry is on the verge of undermining Rumsey's protected area designation. The Rumsey Natural Area in east central Alberta is being threatened by extensive CBM development. Alberta Wilderness Association
(AWA) strongly opposes the development of CBM in the Rumsey Natural Area as it, and the adjacent Rumsey Ecological Reserve, were established to
protect the largest block of native aspen parkland and plains rough fescue grassland remaining in North America.

"The Rumsey Natural Area was designated in 1996 under the government's Special Places 2000 program due to its international significance," says
Jason Unger, AWA Conservation Specialist. "It is contrary to the intent of protection of the area that the government would allow coal bed methane development."

The 144 km2 Rumsey Natural Area consists of large areas of native grasses, including Alberta's provincial grass, rough fescue. "Once rough fescue grasslands are destroyed, they are gone forever, since attempts to restore them have consistently failed," says professional botanist Cheryl
Bradley. "Furthermore, disturbances provide avenues for invasion of non-native species into these special grasslands. The footprint of numerous CBM wells will seriously compromise the ecological integrity of the area."

Rights to the natural gas in the coal underlying the Rumsey Natural Area have been leased to several companies, including Encana, Canadian Superior, CNRL, Husky Oil, Pioneer Natural Resources and Trident Exploration. Currently, Trident has the only CBM well in the Natural Area, drilled in the spring of 2004, and has yet todetermine the feasibility of broader CBM field development. AWA is asking Trident and other companies to forego development in the Natural Area, as the environmental and cultural cost would be much too high.

Although the 1993 area management plan, or Regional Integrated Decision (RID), allowed for restricted conventional oil and gas development, it was developed prior to the natural area designation. Further, CBM development was not contemplated by those involved in producing the RID. Well densities are often higher with CBM development than with conventional gas development and recent studies show plains rough fescue grasslands to be even more at risk than was thought at the time the natural area was established.

"The area should be designated as a Heritage Rangeland," says Unger. "This would protect its natural and cultural heritage because it would prohibit any activity that would disturb the surface. Anything
less will not protect these special rangelands."

For more information please contact:
Jason Unger, AWA Conservation Specialist
Ph: (403) 283-2025
Cheryl Bradley, Professional Botanist
Ph: (403) 328-1245

Posted October 14, 2004 by russ

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