In the latest chapter of a story that has seen the third largest corporation in the world arrest grandmothers, and sue elders for lost revenue, Royal Dutch Shell appears to be withholding information from the provincial government in the hopes of avoiding further delays to their coalbed methane ambitions for the Sacred Headwaters of northwest BC.

The Situation

At the center of recent events is the only road leading into the Sacred Headwaters (the location of Shell’s coalbed methane tenure); it sustained serious flood damage last Spring.

This summer, to prevent Shell from repairing the road, elders of the Klabona Keepers and others organized a blockade (see video).

In response, Shell sought a BC Supreme Court injunction to have the  grandmothers and others blocking the road removed by the RCMP.

On the day of the injunction hearing, Shell adjourned their application amidst protests in Smithers and Vancouver (see video).

Since the adjournment, Shell has gone back to the courts and has gained the injunction, which they could use to call in the RCMP should more blockades occur; armed with this, Shell has now begun repairing the road.  Rather than get arrested, the Klabona Keepers have put together a cultural and environmental monitoring crew to keep daily tabs on Shell’s work.

At the heart of the most recent conflict is the last washed-out section of the road, referred to as ‘kilometer 29’. The Keepers have identified an ancient trail and other cultural features near the site that could be affected were Shell to re-route that section of the road.  

In response to assertions of the existence of cultural features that could be impacted, Shell hired Rescan: a consulting company with something of a reputation as being the industry’s go-to ‘we’ll say whatever you want us to say’ consultants, to conduct an archaeological assessment of the area. 

Inconvenient Information

During Rescan’s assessment, the Klabona Keepers’ cultural monitors started noticing the mysterious disappearance of flags they had put up to indicate important cultural features. When confronted, Rescan revealed that Shell had instructed them not to talk to the monitors or anyone.

In a completely shocking development [read: not shocking], the final Rescan report said precisely what Shell wanted it to say: that they found no evidence near the overland route of cultural features that would be protected by the BC Heritage Conservation Act.

Frustrated with this, the Klabona Keepers complained to the BC Archeological Branch and to Shell. Perhaps sensing an indefensible position Shell commissioned a second assessment; this time to be done by another consulting company, Golder Associates.

According to Rhoda Quock and Peter Jakesta of the Klabona Keepers, the women conducting the Golder Associates assessment actually spoke to local elders and therefore confirmed the possibility of an ancient trail in the area of the disputed section of road. She recommended to Shell that: (a) they wait until the snow cover cleared to further investigate, or (b) talk to the BC Archaeological Branch and get a permit to disturb the trail under the assumption that it is in fact there.

This was not what Shell wanted to hear, as it would mean further costly delays to their plans to start getting’ gas outta the earth. So Shell has kept the Golder report tight to its chest, and has only sent the Rescan report to the BC Archeological Branch.

The Klabona Keepers are asserting their right to protect their cultural heritage, including an ancient trail, at site 5 (km 29 of the Ealue Lake Road)

A Temporary Victory

Once again taking matters into their own hands, the Klabona Keepers went to court and in early December won a BC Supreme Court interim injunction against Shell to keep them from disturbing their cultural heritage until the matter is more completely investigated by the courts in the New Year (read press release by clicking here).

The courts may decide that Shell can go ahead in some fashion with the overland route at km 29, in which case the Klabona Keepers are still going to assert that as creators of the cultural heritage, they own it – and their aboriginal title and rights give them the power to decide what can and can’t be disturbed…

…which gets to the heart of this battle:

Deaf Obstinacy

Royal Dutch Shell’s coalbed methane tenure exists in First Nations traditional territory, the Sacred Headwaters of NW BC.

Members of the affected First Nations (the Klabona Keepers) are asserting their aboriginal rights and title over said territory, which includes the power to decide which resources can be developed, when they can be developed, and how.

After the outrage of Nigeria, the world is watching to see how Royal Dutch Shell is treating local indigenous opposition in this corner of British Columbia…It should be clear to all that Shell is taking the same approach it has always taken: plug one ear with cotton so as not to hear what it doesn’t want to hear, and leave the other wide open to those who welcome their extractive ambitions with open arms (e.g. the BC provincial government).

Shell’s Canadian division will not be able to wash its dirty hands of this approach, and I doubt that the executives at Shell HQ in the Netherlands realize just how much the company’s selectively deaf obstinacy is going to cost them.