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Shell says it won’t drill in Headwaters this fall

Shell says it won’t drill in Headwaters this fall

Shell has decided to suspend its planned exploration of coalbed methane in the Klappan this fall to keep communication lines open with interested parties in the area.

“Shell is taking a pause from it’s planned drilling activity in the Klappan this year,” said company official Larry Lalonde.

“We’re doing this to have some dialogue with the newly elected Tahltan Central Council and leadership from the Tahltan band council and Iskut First Nations.”

The company was scheduled to re-enter two wells drilled in 2004 this fall. They wanted to conduct further testing on gas flows, and see if there was produced water associated with natural gas in the coal.

Shell had previously drilled three test wells in 2004, but opposition from Tahltan who don’t want industrial activity on their traditional territory and last year’s flood destroying the access road has slowed progress.

The area, also known as the Sacred Headwaters, is 400 kilometres north of Smithers and contains the headwaters for the Skeena, Nass and Stikine Rivers.

Shell is licensed by the provincial government to drill up to 14 more exploratory wells in the area. Lalonde says since they company already hold the permits, the decision to suspend drilling is voluntary.

“First and foremost, we’re listing to what the Tahltan and Iskut First Nations have told us,” Lalonde said.

“For an open dialogue to occur, it would be beneficial to have a pause…in drilling in 2008.”

The company sent out an email to inform stakeholders of the pause in early August.

While he does not know when the company will resume the drilling, Lalonde said Shell will continue to talk with people in the region and provide people with more knowledge of what the oil and gas industry actually does.

Shell hosted five open houses in the Northwest in the past month, and Lalonde said they have heard from people who are both supportive of and concerned about the planned activity.

However, Shell will continue with its environmental studies in the Klappan to better understand the area’s natural resources.

The company has completed 25 environmental studies to date, and have planned more studies on wildlife, fisheries and water.

Shannon McPhail, executive director for Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition, a group trying to stop coalbed methane development in the area, says this is only the first step.

“I do applaud them for pulling out,” she said.

“They’ve most certainly done the right thing.”

She said the group will not slow down simply because Shell is suspending their drilling for 2008; the coalition will continue to educate people until the deal is off the table.

“At this point it’s an experiment, and a risky one,” McPhail said.

“The people of the North are saying: We will not be your lab rats, we will not be your guinea pigs.”

She noted that there has been much public opposition to Shell’s activities, and that many municipalities and surrounding regional districts have signed a resolution in opposition to the development.

Opposition has also come from a group of Tahltan called the Klabona Keepers, who have previously set up blockades to the Klappan in protest of the development.

“I hope that Shell will continue to do the right thing and listen to the people,” McPhail said.

Last month, a number of non-governmental organizations including the Pembina Institute, Sierra Club B.C. and the Dogwood Initiative issued a call to the provincial government for a 10-year moratorium on coalbed methane to provide time for scientific studies to take place and improve regulatory systems.

Coalbed methane is natural gas found next to coal and often with water. Extracting it generally requires more wells than conventional gas pockets and environmentalists say the water brought to the surface can be harmful to the environment.

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