Government Sacrifices Protected Grasslands to Coalbed Methane Without Public Consultation

Alberta Wilderness AssociationAlberta Native Plant Council

News Release: March 8, 2007

The Energy and Utilities Board (EUB) has given Pioneer Natural Resources approval to drill a coalbed methane well in one of Alberta's last remaining rough fescue grasslands and aspen parkland, the Rumsey Natural Area. Even though both are well-established stakeholders in Rumsey, neither Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA) nor the Alberta Native Plant Council (ANPC) were contacted by government or the company. The groups are weighing what legal options they have to prevent the well from being drilled, including appealing the issuance of the well licence in the courts.

"For more than thirty years I have been dealing with provincial government agencies (including the EUB) and industry on issues regarding management of this internationally significant area," says Cheryl Bradley, Southern Director of the ANPC. "It is reasonable to expect that we would be notified and consulted regarding a decision as significant as this. The public interest in environmental protection is not being served when reasonable and informed environmental voices are shut out."

The 1993 Regionally Integrated Decision (RID), which guides management in the Rumsey Natural Area, calls for "ongoing and meaningful public involvement," a provision that has been ignored. However, Minister Hector Goudreau has recognized AWA as a key stakeholder and the ANPC is volunteering expertise to a committee guiding research on rough fescue restoration and assessment of cumulative environmental effects in the Rumsey Natural Area. The committee's survey of the area last year found a number of cases of non-compliance by industry, a serious problem with invasive species, and poor or non-existent reclamation.

The Public Lands Division of Sustainable Resource Development and the Parks and Protected Areas Division of Tourism, Parks, Recreation and Culture approved siting Pioneer's well within 100 metres of wetlands, violating provincial guidelines. The well is sited in a new location and will require 120 metres of new access road.

"Alberta has failed to protect Rumsey. Unbelievably, they do not even require the basic environmental standards be used for such destructive developments," says Cliff Wallis, AWA Past-President. "We want the government to halt any further oil and gas activity in Rumsey and to truly protect this globally significant area from further industrial development, including all coalbed methane."

The 149 km2 globally significant Rumsey Natural Area is the largest remaining block of northern fescue grassland and aspen parkland in central Alberta. In the early 1990s a multistakeholder committee agreed that oil and gas activity would be phased out. However, Alberta Energy bullied the committee into allowing perpetual oil and gas development. The RID did not contemplate coalbed methane development.

In 1996, Environment Minister Ty Lund designated Rumsey as a Natural Area and promised no new wells or access roads. Alberta Energy continued to sell mineral leases in the area, even after signing an agreement stating there will be no new commitments in protected areas, and has insisted that Public Lands and Parks allow surface access.

For more information:
Cheryl Bradley, Southern Director
Alberta Native Plant Council: 403-328-1245

Cliff Wallis, Past-President
Alberta Wilderness Association: 403-271-1408