Scott Simpson, Vancouver Sun Published: Friday, December 05, 2008
A two-year moratorium has been declared on development of coal-bed methane resources in the Klappan coal field in northern British Columbia, the provincial government announced on Friday.
Energy Minister Richard Neufeld said in a news release that Shell Canada “will take a break” in exploration of Mount Klappan.
The company will instead engage local communities, the Tahltan Central Council and individual members of the first nation who have voiced reservations about the project.
“Government is facilitating this by specifying no activity for two years,” the release quoted Neufeld as saying. “I commend both Shell Canada for showing leadership in making this decision and the Tahltan who have expressed their concerns and their interest in having more information.”
Shell had indicated earlier this year that it was suspending its attempts to conduct exploration drilling of the Klappan – although a two-year series road blockades by some Tahltan members had rendered Shell’s decision moot.
In September, the aboriginals were joined in opposition to coal-bed methane development by the Union of B.C. Municipalities, which passed a resolution calling on the government to stop Shell from exploring the area.
Klappan is the headwater region for three major salmon streams in the north, the Skeena, Nass and Stikine Rivers, and coal-bed methane opponents are gravely concerned that exploration and development of presumed rich gas deposits could unleash contaminated water into all the streams, degrading water quality for salmon and for human consumption.
Development of coal-bed methane fields typically involves dewatering of underground gas deposits before the gas begins to flow, and the water is usually removed by directing it into nearby streams.
“The Tahltan nation supports responsible and sustainable development; however, we feel that coal-bed methane (CBM) development is advancing without full and complete information or an established and agreed-upon framework for decision-making that respects and recognizes Tahltan title and rights,” Tahltan Central Council Chair Annita McPhee said in a news release.
“This suspension will provide our nation the time it needs to be well informed on all issues relating to CBM.”
Iskut band Chief Marie Quock, in the same news release, welcomed the announcement.
“This project has challenged our people because, while we need employment and to achieve our economic goals, we also need to protect our land and heritage and ensure that development in our traditional territory is sustainable for generations to come.”
Environmental groups in northwest B.C applauded the moratorium.
“Residents from all walks of life have stated that drilling thousands of wells at the source of our wild salmon rivers is not an option. Today’s announcement shows that our voices are starting to be heard,” Shannon McPhail, executive director of the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition, said in a release.
“A moratorium is the right decision because it allows all Northwest residents to come together around a vision for protecting the sacred headwaters, ” said Pat Moss of Friends of Wild Salmon, a coalition of first nations, fishermen and conservationists.