The Raise the Glass celebration held at the B.C. Cafe Dec. 18 marked the permanent ban on petroleum and natural gas development in the area known as the Sacred Headwaters in northwestern B.C.
More than 40 people joined MLA Doug Donaldson and members of the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition (SWCC) to celebrate the long-awaited announcement from the B.C. government.
The permanent ban comes on the heels of a four-year moratorium on Royal Dutch Shell’s coal-bed methane exploration.
Excitement and relief flowed through several northern communities as this monumental decision began to sink in, Donaldson said.
“It’s a tremendous victory for all those who worked so hard on this important issue,” Donaldson said.
“Close to eight years ago some Tahltan people raised significant concern, risked arrest and ensured that Shell didn’t fully advance in their plans for development in the area.”
Donaldson noted that as part of the Village of Hazelton council in the mid-2000s he was part of forwarding a resolution to the B.C. government stating development in the Sacred Headwaters was unwanted.
Donaldson added, fishermen, loggers, farmers, and other groups also deserve recognition for their work to pressure the B.C. government.
“It’s a good lesson for government to make sure to consult with First Nations and communities when planning to issue resource development leases,” he said.
The tenure Shell had to conduct coal-bed methane exploration and development was given back to the government, B.C. Energy Minister Rich Coleman said.
“For all intents and purposes it’s a ban on that type of exploration in the Sacred Headwaters,” Coleman said.
“If, 50 years in the future the Tahltan said they were interested in development, I suppose a conversation could be had.”
Development doesn’t seem like a possibility, according to Annita McPhee, Tahltan Central Council president.
“Our people don’t want to see it developed,” McPhee said.
“We look forward to working with B.C. on achieving permanent protection of the Klappan.”
The coal-bed methane, petroleum and natural gas ban is limited to 400,000 hectares around the Sacred Headwaters, also known as the Klappan area of northwestern B.C.
One of the forerunners of activity against development in the Sacred Headwaters was the SWCC, as its staff worked around-the-clock in the weeks leading up to the decision, mostly on phones with B.C. government and industry representatives.
Shannon McPhail, SWCC executive director, is elated and extends gratitude to all who made the ban a reality.
“The B.C. government deserves a lot of credit because this was a big, big decision,” McPhail said.
“That being said, we’ll always hold government and industry accountable.”
When asked what the SWCC plans to do, now that there’s no looming battle with Shell, McPhail laughed, smiled and said.
“We’re gonna celebrate.”
“How often do small communities and local yokels get to say they’ve had a major victory over one of the world’s largest corporations?”
A more formal celebration, in the Hazelton area, regarding the permanent ban is being planned for mid-February by the SWCC.