It looks like the Tahltan’s ongoing battle to protect theSacred Headwaters of the Stikine, Skeena and Nass watersheds is about to heat up again.
Despite ongoing Tahltan opposition to any industrial development in the Sacred Headwaters, Shell Canada is once again pressuring the provincial government to approve permits to drill for coalbed methane in the fragile headwaters area.
There is no commercial coalbed methane operation in the world that co-exists with a healthy salmon population. Yet, Shell wants to drill for coalbed methane and risk polluting the first trickles from which four magnificent salmon rivers flow -Spatsizi, Nass, Klappan and Skeena.
In mid January, the BC Oil and Gas Commission (OGC) will be visiting Iskut to “consult” with the locals on Shell’s application for new drilling permits. This meeting is likely to be a formality as the OGC virtually never rejects applications.
In fact, when challenged at a public meeting last spring, an OGC representative admitted that he could think of no applications that were not ultimately approved by the OGC.
Shell should expect broad opposition to its plans. The road Shell needs to access the SacredHeadwaters was blockaded from July through September as Tahltan Elders and youth tried to stop Fortune Minerals’ plan for an open pit coal mine in this important cultural and wildlife area.
Ultimately, 15 people were arrested, but later the charges were dropped.
The conflict began in 2004 when the Crown didn’t fulfill its obligations to deal fairly with the Tahltan before selling Shell Canada coalbed methane drilling rights in the Klappan Groundhog coalfield for $4.5 million.This violated recent directions from the Supreme Court of Canada requiring affected aboriginal groups to be consulted before ‘allocations” occurred.
Tahltan opposition began brewing in 2004 when, with no prior notice or discussion, bulldozers blasted a new road turnoff from highway 37 to Ealue Lake Road through John Nole’s traditional camp in order to facilitate access of Shell’s drilling equipment.
Opposition escalated when the Tahltan Elders declared a moratorium (“Dena nenn Sogga neh ‘ine” (Protectors or Keepers of the Land)) on all new resource development proposals until certain conditions were met.
Last spring Shell had to abandon its coalbed methane drilling plans when the Iskut Band Council and Tahltan Elders asked them to leave the Sacred Headwaters. And in November, the BC courts refused to grantFortune Minerals’ request for an extension of its injunction against protestors on Ealue Lake Road.
Instead of responding to Tahltan concerns, in the months since it was forced to abandon its plans, Shell has ignored numerous requests for detailed information about its plans for the Sacred Headwaters area. For example, it has refused to put in writing the potential five options it is considering for pipeline routes to transport future coalbed methane into the continental gas pipeline network.
It has also refused to put in writing the minimum number of potential wells that would be needed for a project in the Sacred Headwaters to be commercially feasible. At a public meeting in Smithers, a Shell representative reluctantly stated that they were hoping for 1 to four wells per square mile.
While this may not seem like a lot it would mean between1,500 to 6,000 wells-along with associated roads, compressors, power lines and pipelines – all within the headwaters of some of the world’s most important salmon rivers.
Commercial coalbed methane production is extremely destructive, because of its intense footprint as well as problems with the disposal of billions of gallons of often toxic produced water.
The OGC may be visiting Iskut, but it’s unlikely to listen.
However, Shell better listen. Because any attempts to move back into the Sacred Headwaters are likely to be met by fierce opposition. DogwoodInitiative will keep you posted.
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