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Terrace Standard (Canada): Shell cancels gas drill program

SHELL HAS abandoned plans to explore the Klappan region north of here for coalbed methane natural gas this year after failing to reach a deal with the Tahltan, whose traditional territory includes the area.

The company began work in the Klappan in 2004 and although it did not return last year after protests from some Tahltan, it had hopes to resume this year, said Shell official Jeff Mann.

Those hopes were pinned on what Mann called a voluntary benefits agreement for this year, a deal that could have provided up to $6 million in wages and contracts to Tahltan workers and Tahltan companies.

That deal was worked out with negotiators for the Tahltan Central Council, which speaks for the Tahltan on resource issues, but it was not signed off by the council itself, said Mann.

“Unfortunately we were not able to conclude an agreement,” said Mann who added that the company had passed the deadline by which it could organize fieldwork in time for it to be completed before winter returned to the Klappan.

Mann said Shell had invested much in speaking with and listening to members of the Tahltan community over the past two years in hopes of receiving approval to work in the Klappan.

“We did what we felt we needed to do to engage the Tahltan community,” he added.

“I should add that this work was just to examine the potential for coalbed methane. We don’t know what’s there yet,” said Mann.

Mann said the amount of time Shell has spent in seeking approval to explore was considerable given the relatively small size of the field program it wanted to carry out.

He declined to comment on what is now a two-year gap in exploration means for Shell’s future plans.

Tahltan Central Council president Curtis Rattray said it didn’t sign the benefits deal because of an overall lack of a framework for the Tahltan to be fully involved in resource use decisions on its territory.

“Otherwise our aboriginal rights and title are being infringed upon,” said Rattray.

Shell drilled two exploratory wells in 2004 and wanted to do five more on ground Mann said had already been disturbed by other activity.

Coalbed methane is natural gas stored under pressure next to coal seams. Some coal seams are saturated with water and the methane is held in the coal by the water pressure, requiring the water to be removed in order for the methane to be pumped out.

Environmental and other groups have long worried about coalbed methane, saying there are environmental and other impacts caused by pumping out water to release the methane.

The Tahltan regard the Klappan as particularly sensitive portion of its traditional territory because of its environmental, social and historical value.

Two weeks ago a number of native groups gathered in the Klappan to highlight its environmental and cultural value. The area contains the headwaters of the Skeena, Stikine and Nass river systems.

Shell’s decision this year continues what has been a turbulent time in the Tahltan traditional area over the scope and pace of industrial development.

The area contains at least a dozen potential mines, in addition to Shell’s coalbed methane prospects.

That’s resulted in pressure to either approve development or not within the Tahltan community which primarily resides in and around three villages, Iskut, Dease Lake and Telegraph Creek.

Last year at this time, a group of Tahltan elders and others blockaded road access into the Klappan, the Telegraph Creek band office was all but closed because of internal dissent and there was division overall about who can make decisions on land and resource use.

That changed over the past year and the Tahltan Central Council, made up of members of the elected Tahltan village band councils and elders, is generally regarded as the voice for the Tahltan people when it comes to activities on their traditional territory.

Mines ministry assistant deputy minister Yvette Wells said last week that Shell made a business decision and that it respects that decision.

She noted Shell has received all the approvals to explore in the Klappan that it needs to from the province.

“We hope to find a way to get past this thing,” said Wells of the failure, so far, to get a Tahltan sign off for Shell to work in the Klappan.

But Wells did not characterize the failure as disappointing to the provincial government.

“We’ve all tried very hard, and have worked very hard, on this issue and on broader ones,” said Wells of efforts on the part of the province to match Tahltan aspirations with those of resource companies.

Those efforts have included a number of provincial ministries, including mines and aboriginal affairs.

Shell’s leases in the Klappan came after it and other companies around the province responded to a call to find potential oil and gas fields outside of the traditional northeastern fields.

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