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Northern councils urge Shell to halt methane hunt


Northern councils urge Shell to halt methane hunt

Municipal councils in Smithers and Prince Rupert have passed a resolution calling for an immediate halt to coal-bed methane exploration in the region, throwing their weight behind native and environmental groups that have been lobbying against Shell Canada’s plans to hunt for coal-bed gas there.

“There are a lot of unanswered issues,” Smithers Mayor Jim Davidson said Monday. “And the biggest one is what impact it will have on rivers.”

The resolution calls for the province to immediately suspend coal-bed methane exploration in a local tenure, pursue “comprehensive consultation” with all residents of the Skeena, Nass and Stikine watersheds, and not proceed with coal-bed methane development in the region until there is “compelling evidence” of environmental safety.

Councils of several villages, native bands and regional districts have passed the resolution.

Shell has already faced roadblocks and protests over its activities in the region, and has been conducting a series of open houses in recent weeks to update residents on its plans.

Shell drilled three wells in northwestern B.C. in 2004 to hunt for coal-bed methane – natural gas found in coal seams. There is no commercial coal-bed methane production in B.C., but the province is keen on the resource.

It says coal-bed gas potential is 80 times greater than the province’s natural-gas production.

But exploration programs have run into stiff opposition over concerns about impact on fish, water and wildlife.

Shell wants to reopen two of the three wells the company has already drilled and explore an additional 14 sites, spokesman Larry Lalonde said Monday. Typically, such work would start in the fall when ground freezes and it’s easier to move heavy equipment to exploration sites.

The province introduced new rules last year that prohibit surface discharge of “produced” water – water extracted from the coal seam to allow gas flow – from coal-bed methane sites.

Shell had already agreed not to discharge any surface water before those regulations were introduced and believes exploration can be conducted without environmental damage, Mr. Lalonde said. The company would need more licences and permits to conduct any activity beyond the 14 wells for which it has permits, he added.

“The biggest picture right now is we are trying to see whether we can actually get the gas to flow or not. If we can’t get the gas to flow, there may not be a project,” he said.

The resolution was spearheaded by conservation groups including Friends of Wild Salmon, which was founded about three years ago to fight the introduction of fish farms to B.C.’s north coast.

With that battle won, at least temporarily – in March the province suspended applications for aquaculture on the north coast while it weighs a new approach – the group considered disbanding.

Instead, it turned its attention to the area some call the Sacred Headwaters, as it is the source of the salmon-rich Skeena, Nass and Stikine Rivers.

Earlier this year, the provincial government made part of the contentious Flathead Valley in southeastern B.C. – where BP Canada had been eyeing potential resources – off-limits to coal-bed methane exploration. BP Canada is still pursuing its Mist Mountain project, which is studying coal-bed methane production in a 500-square-kilometre area near Fernie and Sparwood.

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