A group of landowners is challenging Alberta's right of ownership to the province's lucrative coalbed methane reserves.

The provincial government currently sells the rights to the natural gas, which is taken from coal seams, and collects royalties from the companies that extract it.


There are more than 30 gas wells on Rob Oudman's potato farm south of Taber, Alta. ((Rick Donkers/CBC))

Alberta's coalbed methane reserves have been estimated to be worth as much as $1 trillion.

But Don Bester, who has formed a group called the United Land Owners of Alberta, says evidence by the Alberta Research Council and the Alberta Geological Survey shows coalbed methane is a renewable resource like wind or solar energy, which means it can't be owned by the province.

"Methane gas is made in real time every day and the Alberta government was only given legal ownership of non-renewable resources," Bester said Wednesday.

He organized a meeting in Taber, about 250 kilometres southeast of Calgary, on Wednesday, looking for supporters for a legal challenge contesting the province's ownership of CBM.

"We have got the challenge registered in the court and the only way we can proceed is to get membership and funding behind us," he said.

But Kevin Heffernan, vice-president of the Canadian Society of Unconventional Gas, disputes Bester's argument that coalbed methane is renewable.

"The process relies on coal as a feed stock, and the feed stock — the coal seam — is actually limited. It's finite. Presumbly there would be a finite amount of methane that could be generated. So I think that question will need to be addressed as part of this process as well."

Challenge hopes to give landowners more say

On Rob Oudman's potato farm south of Taber, there are more than 30 gas wells owned by oil companies, and Oudman is compensated for only what he could have grown on that land.


Potato farmer Rob Oudman worries energy companies will soon come looking for coalbed methane under his land. ((Rick Donkers/CBC))

"They can take an area that is already producing and without my authority or say-so start producing coalbed methane," he told CBC News.

Oudman said he worries energy companies will soon come looking for coalbed methane under his land, and that it will be bad for his crops.

"We have had issue in the past here with pipeline rupture, that sort of thing, contaminating some of the soil," he said.

Bester's legal challenge hopes to change how much say landowners have in developing coal bed methane.

"I want to have the right to say no to a CBM [coalbed methane] well but I also want the right to be able to, if I want to develop a CBM well, I can develop it," he said.

The provincial government says it will fight the challenge.