Shell Canada says it won’t be resuming its activity in the Klappan for at least another year or so.
“We will be continuing a period of pause, which started in 2008, into 2012,” said company spokesperson Larry Lalonde.
Shell had originally decided to suspend its planned exploration of coalbed methane in the Klappan in the fall of 2008 to keep communication lines open with interested parties in the area.
Then in December of 2008, the provincial government facilitated this break in exploration by specifying there be no activity for two years, allowing for additional environmental review and First Nation consultation.
While that deadline passed in December 2010, Shell officials are saying the company will be continuing on with this period of pause in activity.
The Tahltan Central Council, the organization responsible for protecting Tahltan title and rights, commends the province’s decision to extend the suspension of Shell’s activity in the Klappan.
“The extension will provide our Nation the additional time we need to better understand the environmental issues relating to coalbed methane exploration in this culturally sensitive area and to establish an agreed upon framework for decision making that recognizes Tahltan Title and Rights,” says Annita McPhee, chair of the Tahltan Central Council. “The Tahltan Nation supports responsible and sustainable development that acknowledges Tahltan laws and socio-economic values.”
The extension is also lauded by Marie Quock, chief of the Iskut band, the Tahltan community closest to the proposed exploration.
“Our community commends the government’s decision to extend the moratorium and welcomes the opportunity for further consultation,” says Chief Quock. “We need to protect our land and heritage and ensure that development in our traditional territory is sustainable for generations to come.”
Shell had previously drilled three test wells in 2004, but progress slowed from floods in 2007 destroying the access road and opposition from Tahltan who don’t want industrial activity on their traditional territory.
Local interest groups and environmental groups have also called for a halt in development, and a march was held during a Shell open house in Terrace July 15, 2008 , bringing out hundreds of people from outlying areas protesting Shell’s activities in the Klappan.
A northwest group called the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition formed to stop coalbed methane development in the area, and a number of non-governmental organizations including the Pembina Institute, Sierra Club B.C. and the Dogwood Initiative have called on the provincial government to set up a 10-year moratorium on coalbed methane. This would allow time for scientific studies to take place and improve regulatory systems.
Opposition has also come from a group of Tahltan called the Klabona Keepers, who have previously set up blockades to the Klappan in protest of the development.
The area, also known as the Sacred Headwaters, is approximately 500 kilometres north of Smithers and 300 kilometres southeast of Dease Lake, and contains the headwaters for the Skeena, Nass and Stikine Rivers.
Shell is licensed by the provincial government to drill up to 14 more exploratory wells in the area.
Coalbed methane is natural gas found next to coal and often with water. Extracting it generally requires more wells than needed for conventional gas pockets and environmentalists say the water brought to the surface can be harmful to the environment.
The delay will enable the Tahltan Nation to fully explore resource management issues including land use planning, environmental baseline studies, social and cultural impact studies and eco-systems mapping prior to development.