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Shell stays in Klappan, ignores calls by First Nations and UBCM

Shell Canada plans to continue working in remote Klappan Valley, in disregard of two public calls for the Dutch-owned oil company to cease its pursuit of coalbed methane in northwestern B.C.

“Although we are pausing our drilling plans, we are continuing some exploration activity,” in the form of environmental studies involving wildlife, fish and surface water sampling, Shell Canada spokesperson Larry Lalonde said Tuesday.

Shell’s persistence flies in the face of two influential resolutions passed last week.

On Friday, the First Nations Summit called for a 10-year moratorium on coalbed methane drilling in the province.

“The coalbed methane industry is infringing on aboriginal title and rights all over British Columbia,” Wet’suwet’en executive director Debbie Pierre said in a news release. “Our wildlife and wild salmon are threatened and we are calling on Gordon Campbell to halt all drilling until we have a better approvals system in place.”

And on Thursday, the Union of British Columbia Municipalities asked the province to suspend Shell’s work in the Klappan until “the majority of residents in the region are satisfied that such development does not jeopardize their values and existing economic activities.”

Opponents to coalbed methane development argue that the gas, which is found buried between coal seams deep within the earth, carries too many environmental risks and too few regulatory obligations. Previous attempts at coalbed methane exploration elsewhere in the province have come to naught, mainly due to public opposition.

In 2007, the Wet’suwet’en First Nation successfully quashed plans to drill for coalbed methane near Telkwa, B.C.

Shell was granted tenure to explore for coalbed methane in the Klappan in 2004, and driled three test walls that year. In 2006, local residents set up a blockade on the access road into the area, resulting in the arrest of Tahltan elders.

After spending millions to upgrade an abandoned provincial rail bed that serves as the only road into the Klappan, Shell Canada announced in August it would voluntarily suspend drilling in the area while it consults with First Nations.

“Essentially, that’s to allow for us to have dialogue with the newly elected members of the Tahltan First Nation,” Lalonde said this week. “We’re also doing it to continue our dialogue with other First Nations, municipalities, environmental groups and other people who are interested from the region.”

The Klappan region is claimed as traditional territory by the Tahltan First Nation, and has been dubbed the Sacred Headwaters because it is the source of the Skeena, Nass and Stikine rivers.

Shell Canada Ltd, a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell PLC, is also developing gas projects in northeastern B.C.

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