Two years after Shell was forced to shut down their coalbed methane drilling operations in the Sacred Headwaters (Klappan), it looks like another face-off is brewing. Royal Dutch Shell is signaling it may move bulldozers into the region as early as August 20th.null

Photo: Tahltan people evict Shell in 2005

In 2005, the Tahltan stood up and defended their Sacred Headwaters against Shell’s plans to drill between 1,500 and 6,000 coalbed methane wells. The courageous actions of the local youth, elders and elected leaders shut down Shell after three test wells had been drilled. Their ongoing courage in protecting the sacred area has shut down Shell ever since.


Recently, after taking over Shell Canada, Royal Dutch Shell informed Tahltan elected representatives that they intend to move heavy equipment in to the Sacred Headwaters to fix the access road as the first step towards renewing drilling.


Elected Tahltan representatives responded by telling Shell that, because of the sentiments of their communities, they ‘have no mandate’ to agree to Shell’s plans.


Despite local opposition Shell appears to be planning to move drilling equipment in soon. Tahltan elders from Iskut, Telegraph and Dease Lake notified Shell that they will not allow Shell’s bulldozers or industrial drills past their cultural education center on the access road.



The Sacred Headwaters, located in the Northwestern BC, is where the first trickles of three of the world’s great salmon rivers (Stikine, Nass and Skeena) begin to flow. It is also the place the world began in most northern British Columbian First Nations creation myths.


Coalbed methane – or gas trapped in coal deposits – may be the most destructive type of fossil fuel. It is the same type of gas you might burn in your kitchen range. However, to extract CBM, numerous wells must be drilled into the coal deposit. Because coalbed methane is usually spread out over a large area, more wells are typically required than for conventional gas production. Generally when CBM wells are drilled, a lot of water must be pumped out to access the gas. This water, called “produced water” is often toxic containing high salt levels and heavy metals. It is considered wastewater under federal law. Disposal of this wastewater can have disastrous consequences for agricultural land, drinking water supplies, and fish and wildlife.


Despite the growing opposition and potential environmental consequences, Royal Dutch Shell is trying to renew drilling for coalbed methane two years after being asked to leave the territory.


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. With no prior notice or discussion, bulldozers blasted a new road turnoff through a traditional camp in order to facilitate access of Shell’s drilling equipment.


Tahltan elders and are preparing to stop Shell again. However this time the conflict is poised to escalate from a regional dispute to an international showdown. In July, The Klabona Keepers, representing the Iskut elders, sent a letter to the international conservation community asking for assistance in getting Royal Dutch Shell to alter its course of action.


nullFourteen NGOs responded. And the gathering forces are formidable. International groups such as Friends of the Earth, NRDC, Greenpeace, Forest Ethics and Oil Change International have joined with Dogwood Initiative, David Suzuki Foundation, Western Canada Wilderness Committee, Sierra Club of Canada and others in a letter

urging Royal Dutch Shell to “refrain” from renewed drilling.


The letter

, addressed to Royal Dutch shell’s CEO, Mr. Jeroen van der Veer, and Chairman, Mr. Jorma Ollila, is just the first of a number of joint actions the NGOs are planning that will raise the profile of the conflict if Shell moves forward.


In addition to catalyzing some of the most aggressive and successful corporate campaigns in history, the combined membership of the signatory NGOs is in the tens of millions.


Does Royal Dutch Shell, and the BC government, really want to ignite an international campaign by forcing a confrontation over CBM drilling in the Sacred Headwaters in the coming weeks?


It appears so.


While both Shell and Energy Minister Neufeld may be hoping they can move in the equipment, arrest a few First Nations elders, take a few media hits and begin commercial CBM drilling, clearly they are underestimating the growing opposition.



Take some beautiful linked watersheds, add in some creation myths about the beginning of the world, mix in a few photogenic elders with determination in their eyes, top it with some media savy NGOs with strong corporate campaigning credentials and you have an explosive mix ready to ignite.


Dogwood Initiative will keep you posted as the situation develops.


Watch the Sacred Headwaters Videos