Thursday, August 28, 2008

Shell reverses field on sacred headwaters plans

The emotional debate over proposed coalbed methane drilling in the Sacred Headwaters region of the Skeena had a temporary reprieve, as Shell announced they were planning to suspend their planned drilling project for the 2009 drilling season.

Those opposed to the plan are hoping that the delay will prove to be more than a temporary situation and that Shell will reconsider its plans after considering the well documented concerns of those living in those areas affected.

The Daily News provided details on the reversal in their August 19th edition with a front page examination of the issue. They followed up on the announcement with the opinions of the projects opponents, published on August 20.

Skeena sacred headwaters to be left alone… for now
By George T. Baker
The Daily News
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Pages one and three

Royal Dutch Shell announced Monday that it temporarily suspended its planned 412,000-hectare coalbed methane drilling project and exploration project in the Sacred Headwater.

Larry Lonalee, senior communications representative for exploration and production, said that Shell hasn’t put a timeline on the moratorium but he said the expected drilling pause would last the entire 2008-2009 season.

“That means for the winter there will be no re-entering of three wells and the drilling of up to 14 newly licensed wells,” said Lonalee.

The announcement represents a battle victory for local area groups opposed to the project. They want the project terminated forever.

“We are very pleased with this announcement and we applaud Shell for doing it,” said Shannon McPhail, executive director for the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition (SWCC).

Several environmental groups, including the Northwest Watch and Sierra Club of B.C. and the SWCC fear that any coalbed methane drilling would kill or damage the amount of wild salmon that use the river for spawning.

Julia Hill, Co-Chair of the Northwest Watch said that she was convinced that the reason Shell has paused at this time was because of the action taken by the groups and concerned people around the North Coast region.

”I think they realized there would be a huge blockade of people in front of their trucks, if they were to begin drilling this fall,” said Hill.

She added that people as diverse as hippies to cowboys had voiced their opposition to the proposed drill site.

McPhail hoped that Shell was starting to get all the groups’ message.

“The people who Shell have consulted through open houses have told them that they don not want this project and Shell has to listen,” McPhail said.

According to SWCC, the Skeena River bring $110 million annually in commercial and tourist fishing to North Coast economy and is vital for many small towns along the river’s banks.

One such town is Hazelton.

“Every house in my town cans fish and every freezer in this town is probably half full with fish,” Hazelton Mayor Alice Maitland said of the 350 people in her city who rely on the river for the salmon.

“That’s our main food because a big percentage of our population is unemployed and they rely on whatever food they can get from the river.”

At this point, Hazelton has taken an iron-clad approach to any plans for Coalbed drilling. Maitland said because Hazelton is the first developed area on the Skeena after it leaves the watershed they could not support this project.

“They should not be doing coalbed methane at all until they can prove to us exactly what they are doing and exactly what the environmental impact will be,” said Maitland.

Lonalee defended Shell’s environmental practices saying that Shell had done 25 environmental studies since 2004, covering fisheries to water sampling. He said they would continue to work on their environmental studies in the Sacred Headwater, also known as Klappan.

He also said that the main reason for Shell’s pause is because the Tahltan nation, whose territory the Sacred Headwater exists in, had asked for it and not because of public pressure.

But that did not deter Hill.

“There is still a huge amount of work to be done,” Hill said. “We’ve a huge battle but not the war.”

Skeena sacred headwaters getting the reprieve it needs
Politicians and scientists alike applaud Shell’s decision
By George T. Baker
The Daily News
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Pages one and three

Political opponents are praising the decision by Royal Dutch Shell to suspend drilling plans in the Sacred Headwaters land for the 2008-2009-winter season.

NDP Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen said on Monday that he was very pleased with Shell’s decision as it proved that people do have power in decisions over their land.

“The reaction I found has been incredible,” Cullen said. “The more people learn about this project, the greater the opposition.”

Cullen said that he is finalizing final consultation meetings plan between Shell and North Coast communities for this fall, which is to allow people to continue to voice their opinions on the project.

The province is pretending that it is only the immediate vicinity - a few square kilometers – they ignore that rivers flow and I believe that everybody down the Skeena are a stakeholder,” he said.

North Coast MLA Gary Coons said the project should not go any further until Shell can prove that it would not hurt the wild salmon population or the water’s safety.

“Part of the reason people opposed Shell’s plan to drill for coalbed methane with such intensity is because there is a real sense of the environment of the northwest being under attack right now, said Coons.
“People here look at the pace and the scale of development in places like northeast British Columbia and northern Alberta, and they don’t want to see the wholesale destruction that has occurred there to happen in our backyard.”

According to Dr. Gilles Welding of GW Solutions, a consulting firm that specializes in groundwater studies, there is no way Shell should be allowed to drill until they can prove there would be no effect on the watershed.

“When extracting for coalbed methane they extract both water and gasses and in order to extract the gas they have to reduce the pressure on the surface depth,” Wendling said. “Doing that there is a high risk of dropping the water table, which effects all the surface water that are fed in large part by ground water.”

Wendling said in the history of coalbed methane this has happened every time, although he did say that every drill project is case specific.

“There is no known positive result from coalbed methane extraction, it has always been associated with negative effects – either water quantity or water quality you name it.

“Shell doesn’t know but they should know. If they pop in and see, it will be too late. We need to know before hand not in forty years when the wetlands are dry and say oh my gosh we should have known.”

The Oil and Gas Commission act does not require that coalbed methane license holders conduct and environmental assessment before drilling the ground. But Section 17.1, subsection 8 does state that the oil and gas commission can amend, suspend or cancel a license or permit.

Shell owns 412,000 hectares of land near the Sacred Headwaters, also known as Klappen.

According to the ministry of natural resources Shell would have paid up to $32,000 per-hectare for a drilling license.

Minister for Richard Neufeld is on holidays and was available for comment.

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