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Stop drilling, B. C. mayors urge Shell

Coal-Bed Methane; Province to take resolution ‘under consideration’

Nathan Vanderklippe, Financial Post Published: Friday, September 26, 2008

VANCOUVER – British Columbians ratcheted up their opposition to a proposed Shell Canada Ltd. coal-bed methane project yesterday as a group of mayors unanimously approved a resolution demanding Premier Gordon Campbell halt the company’s drilling.

At the same time, environmental groups are preparing to petition the B. C. government for a 10-year moratorium on all development of the unconventional gas resource, which has provoked anger — and even one First Nations blockade of drilling equipment –in the province.

“We’ve got rednecks, commercial fishermen, sport fishermen, First Nations, municipal leaders, you name it — it’s a broad spectrum of people who don’t find this acceptable,” said Doug Donaldson, the mayor of Hazelton, B. C. and a supporter of yesterday’s resolution at the Union of B. C. Municipalities.

“I don’t think the provincial government can ignore this any longer.”

Shell has drilled only three holes since it was awarded tenure over its Klappan coal-bed methane deposit in northwestern B. C. in 2004. This month, it announced a temporary suspension of drilling activity for the upcoming season in order provide information to local First Nations groups.

A poll taken earlier this year found that 70% of northwestern B. C. residents opposes the company’s work in an area that flows into three major rivers — the Skeena, Nass and Stikine — and called the Sacred Headwaters.

Coal-bed methane is a form of natural gas locked inside coal. B. C. is home to huge deposits, but opponents argue that their production will bring “devastating” impacts to waterways, fish and wildlife and provide little in exchange.

“We live in a small valley and when you have compressors and lines and roads criss-crossing it — why would I want to do that for two or three permanent jobs?” said Randy McClean, the mayor of Princeton, B. C.

Petrobank Energy and Resources Ltd. is developing a coal-bed methane seam near the interior town, although community concerns have forced it, too, to suspend its drilling schedule.

Farther east, BP Canada Energy Co. has been waiting since February for the provincial government to decide on a tenure application for a massive, 500 square-kilometre deposit near the Alberta border.

The company has said it will spend up to five years and $15-million on environmental studies before proceeding. Spokeswoman Hejdi Feick acknowledged that public opposition has been strong, but said “we aren’t going to do a project if we can’t do it right.”

The province said the municipalities’ resolution “will be taken under consideration.” Shell did not return calls.

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