B.C. activists celebrate ban on oil and gas development in Sacred Headwaters

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Conservation groups are celebrating a decision to ban oil and gas development in an area of northwestern B.C. located within traditional First Nation territory.

The B.C. government today (December 18) announced it has reached a deal with Shell Canada and the Tahltan Central Council on natural-gas development in the region known as the Klappan or the Sacred Headwaters.

“As part of a tripartite agreement, Shell Canada is immediately withdrawing plans to explore for natural gas in the Klappan by relinquishing its tenures,” the province says in a statement. “In addition, the Province of British Columbia will not issue future petroleum and natural-gas tenure in the area.”

Shannon McPhail, executive director of the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition, said the decision is a huge relief.

“This is an unprecedented announcement,” McPhail told the Straight by phone. “Not only does it permanently ban coal bed methane and Shell from ever developing in that region, it also permanently bans any oil and gas activity. That’s a huge victory. It’s protected forever from all oil and gas activity.”

The Sacred Headwaters region is located in the Tahltan Nation’s traditional territory and is valued culturally and spiritually by the First Nation group. It is also home to the headwaters of the Nass, Skeena, and Stikine rivers, which are salmon-bearing waterways.

Karen Tam Wu, with the environmental group ForestEthics, credited members of the Tahltan Nation for taking a stand on the issue early on.

“The Tahltan First Nation and communities downstream can wake up tomorrow knowing that area will never be subject to fracking or drilling for natural gas,” she told the Straight by phone. “And it’s a great day of celebration for the communities who have stood up for wild places, clean water, wild salmon, and a green economy.”

“I think the amount of opposition and the pressure of people all over the world watching what was happening in this corner of the province, it drove the province and Shell to the table to talk to each other.”

The province’s announcement comes as a four-year-long moratorium on oil and gas exploration in the area was to expire.

“We want to acknowledge Shell for its decision to respect the wishes of the Tahltan Nation by giving up its plans to develop coal-bed methane in the Klappan,” Annita McPhee, president of the Tahltan Central Council, said in a statement released by the province.

“The Klappan is one of the most sacred and important areas for our people,” McPhee said. “It is a place of tremendous cultural, spiritual, historic and social importance. Our people do not want to see it developed, and we look forward to working with B.C. on achieving permanent protection of the Klappan.”

In a statement, Lorraine Mitchelmore, president of Shell Canada, said her company was pleased “to have found common ground on the issue”. Mitchelmore said Shell will now focus on projects in northeastern B.C.

Doug Donaldson, the New Democrat MLA for Stikine, also welcomed the province’s decision.

“I want to send a heartfelt congratulations to all the people that have fought for this place since 2004,” Donaldson said in a statement released by the NDP. “It was a long campaign that at times felt like an impossible hurdle.”

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Jason Gratl
Please let us remember the Klabona Keepers, a most courageous group of Tahltan advocates and elders, who laid themselves down in the paths of Shell vehicles at a time when the Tahltan Central Council (under different leadership) supported coalbed methane development. When others faltered, the Klabona Keepers stood their ground against Shell and the Province.

Wade Davis and Lindsay Eberts also deserve special mention for their indispensable contributions to this battle.
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chris mcavoy
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