Native News Network Staff in Native Currents.Discussion »
VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA On February 2, leading environmental advocacy group ForestEthics, along with its allies and partner groups, will join in a community event in Terrace, a two-hour plane ride north of Vancouver, to celebrate the British Columbia government's announcement this past December that Shell would be withdrawing its plans to develop coal bed methane, a natural gas, in the Sacred Headwaters region of northwest British Columbia.
"Mixing of the Waters" ceremony
The celebration will include speeches, traditional dancing, a "mixing of the waters" ceremony, and feast. The government also announced a moratorium on all natural gas extraction in this region. This announcement represents a huge victory for communities in the area as well as for environmental activists around the world.
“This is a story of First Nations, local communities, and conservation groups standing up to one of the largest multi-national oil companies in the world and winning. Shell has backed away from a project due to environmental concerns only a handful of times,”
said ForestEthics Advocacy senior conservation campaigner Karen Tam Wu.
“The powerful, relentless movement led by the courageous Tahltan and supported by nearly 100,000 people from around the world has not only stopped Shell, but persuaded the British Columbian government to permanently protect the region from any further gas development. Congratulations to the Tahltan, and to the citizens and government of British Columbia.”
Led by campaigner Karen Tam Wu, who is also an adventure sports enthusiast, the U.S. and Canadian based ForestEthics, headquartered in Bellingham, WA, was instrumental in garnering international attention to the conflict. ForestEthics generated nearly 100,000 signatures from people worldwide opposed to Shell's proposal, held two face-to-face meetings with the President of Shell Canada, and led international actions in the Netherlands, Royal Dutch Shell's home base, along with being deeply engaged in moving the British Columbia government towards creating a solution.
The Sacred Headwaters became the source of controversy in 2004 when Shell drilled three test wells in the area. Blockades and public rallies across the Northwest ensued in 2005 and 2006. International protests led by ForestEthics were also held at Royal Dutch Shell headquarters in The Hague. Due to opposition, and with pressure from ForestEthics, the British Columbia government imposed a moratorium on coalbed methane development in the area in 2008, which was set to expire in December of 2012.
Coal bed methane is natural gas trapped in coal deposits. Shell uses hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to extract the gas, which requires a high density of wells and generates vast volumes of wastewater that contains toxic heavy metals including mercury and cadmium. Coalbed methane extraction depletes local aquifers and requires an expansive road and pipeline infrastructure that creates erosion and runoff, destroying both land and water ecosystems.
Located in northwest British Columbia, roughly 1000 kilometers north of Vancouver, British Columbia, the Sacred Headwaters is home to a diversity of wildlife, such as grizzly bears, caribou and moose. Shell's plans would have seen thousands of gas wells and thousands of miles of roads built at the headwaters of the Skeena, Nass, and Stikine rivers - three of British Columbia's top salmon-producing rivers. The headwaters were listed on the British Columbia's Outdoor Recreation Council's Most Endangered Rivers list for the past three years.
On December 18th, the British Columbia government announced that Shell voluntarily relinquished its tenure and cancelled all future plans to explore and develop natural gas in the Headwaters. The government also committed to discontinuing any future issuance of oil and gas tenures in the region.
“Eight years ago, northern British Columbia communities joined together to say no to coalbed methane and yes to wild salmon,”
said Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition executive director Shannon McPhail.
“We are grateful and proud that First Nations and communities from the watersheds came and stood together.”
ForestEthics is eagerly focusing the momentum from this victory against Shell toward their next effort, the TarSands Free Northwest campaign, which will launch within the year. The campaign seeks to protect the northwest coast of the U.S. and the southwest coast of Canada from the threat of more than 200 new supertankers per year, for a total of approximately one a day, (combined with current traffic), hauling tar sands oil, which is the dirtiest and most corrosive oil of its kind.
The impact of tar sands oil on marine life is unknown - this oil sinks, rather than floating on top of the water. The tar sands oil would arrive in coastal ports through new proposed pipelines, in particular one by Kinder Morgan that would terminate in Vancouver's picturesque English Bay, where it will be sent to Washington, California or oversees for refining. The majority of this transport would take place via supertanker. The storied and pristine waters off the coast in this region are home to orcas, salmon, herring and countless other marine life.
posted January 28, 2013 6:00 am est