Sacred Headwaters

Sacred Headwaters

The Sacred Headwaters is the name given to a subalpine basin in northern British Columbia that is the shared birthplace of three of Canada's greatest wild salmon rivers: the Skeena River, Nass River and Stikine River. It is also referred to as the Klappan Valley, although the Klappan -- a tributary of the Stikine River -- is only one of the area's watersheds. Local Tahltan people call the area "Klabona", which is loosely translated as "headwaters."

Robust populations of grizzly bears, [Dall's Sheep| [stone sheep] and caribou call the Sacred Headwaters home, interacting in predator-prey relationships that are millennia old . Salmon swim over 400 kilometres from the Pacific Ocean to spawn in the upper reaches of the river.

Industrial Development

The Sacred Headwaters is also rich in mineral and energy resources, particularly coal and coalbed methane. Several industrial development projects are planned for the area, including Fortune Minerals' open-pit Klappan Coal mine [cite web |url= |title=Klappan Coal mine] and Royal Dutch Shell's Klappan Coalbed Methane project [cite web |url= |title=Klappan Coalbed Methane project] .

Shell's Klappan Coalbed Methane Project

The most controversial development proposal for the Sacred Headwaters is Shell's proposal for coalbed methane development. In 2004, the BC government granted Shell Canada (since 2007 a wholly owned subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell) a 400,000-hectare tenure for coalbed methane development. This tenure includes the headwaters of the Skeena, Nass and Stikine Rivers. It is accessed by road via the abandoned BC Rail grade, which intersects Highway 37 just south of Iskut, BC.

As of Summer 2008, Shell's project is in the exploration phase. Shell drilled three exploratory wells in 2004 and is preparing to drill an additional 14 wells in 2008, 8 of which are proposed for the headwaters of the Skeena River.

If developed, shell's project will entail a network of gas wells connected by roads and pipelines, as well as a pipeline to deliver the gas to market. Shell has disclosed neither how many wells will be necessary to make the project economically viable nor route options for the delivery pipeline.

Scientific Research

* The [ Fort St. James Land and Resource Management Plan] describes high habitat values for woodland caribou, as well as significant populations of grizzly bears, wolves, goats in the Groundhog Resource Management Zone (which overlaps with the Sacred Headwaters basin). [ [ "Fort St. James Land and Resource Management Plan"] , BC Integrated Land Management Bureau, 1999.]

* Shell Canada's website refers to [ several environmental baseline studies being carried out within the Klappan tenure area] .

* The [ BC Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources] estimates the Sacred Headwaters' Klappan coal deposit could contain as much as convert|8.1|Tft3|km3 of coalbed methane gas:

::"The estimated potential CBM of convert|8|Tft3|km3|abbr=on is calculated using a conservative gas content value of 5cc/g. The resource assessment is restricted to the area of Currier Formation outcrop within the coalfields. Coal outcrops outside this area but usually in thin and widely scattered seams." [ [ A Summary of Coalbed Methane Potential in British Columbia] , Barry Ryan, BC Ministry of Energy and Mines, British Columbia (no date).]
* [ BC coalbed methane map]

* The [ Pembina Institute] has released a [ study and fact sheet] on the potential impacts of Shell's coalbed methane project on wild salmon, calling it a "risky experiment." The Institute points to increased sedimentation as a result of land disturbance and changes in river volume as a result of water being removed from the groundwater aquifer:

::"Commercial coalbed methane production has never before been attempted in salmon-bearing watersheds. According to the new report, Coalbed Methane and Salmon: Assessing the Risks, a CBM project in the Headwaters would be a risky experiment." [ [ Fact Sheet, Coalbed Methane and Salmon] , Pembina Institute, 2008.]

* The [ Pacific Salmon Foundation's] [ Independent Scientific Review Panel] tasked with looking into the management of Skeena wild salmon has noted Shell's coalbed methane project in the Sacred Headwaters as a threat to wild salmon habitat in the Skeena's upper reaches:

::"Plans for development of coal-bed methane (CBM) resources pose a substantial concern for salmon spawning and rearing habitats due to potential effects on water quality and flow. A region of 412,000 hectares in the headwaters of the Skeena, Stikine, Klappan, Spatzizi, Nass and Bell-Irving watersheds has been licensed to Shell Canada Ltd for coal-bed methane production. These headwaters are underlain by the Klappan and Groundhog coalfields (Figure 21). Coho, sockeye, Chinook, steelhead, rainbow trout, bull trout, Dolly Varden char, and mountain whitefish are present in most of the Shell tenure area." (p.64) [ Report of the Skeena Independent Science Review Panel] , Submitted to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the BC Ministry of Environment, May 15, 2008.]

Significant Events


* In June 2004, Shell signs a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Tahltan Central Council, the Chief of the Tahltan Band and the Chief of the Iskut First Nation, for coalbed methane development in the Sacred Headwaters (Klappan).
* The Government of British Columbia grants Shell tenure, or specific rights to the minerals in an area, for coalbed methane in the Sacred Headwaters (Klappan).
* In the winter of 2004, Shell drills three exploration wells, which detect the presence of coalbed methane gas. The company also conducts a seismic survey over an 84-kilometre stretch of existing railway bed.
* In the spring of 2005, Shell is [ evicted] from the area by elders of the Tahltan Nation based in Iskut.
* First Nations from across Northwest BC gather at Kitsumkalum Hall in Terrace, British Columbia for the first Sacred Headwaters Gathering. They release a declaration of solidarity in the face of development that threatens their lands and waters of their territories.


* Shell cancels its 2006 drilling program in response to opposition.
* First Nations from across Northwest BC come together in Iskut for the second Sacred Headwaters Gathering. The event features a mixing-of-the-waters ceremony in an alpine meadow in the Sacred Headwaters, in which First Nations elders mixed water from the the Skeena, Nass and Stikine Rivers.


* In April 2007, Royal Dutch Shell announced that Shell Canada's shareholders have accepted the parent company's takeover offer. Shell Canada becomes a wholly owned subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell.

* Tahltan elders from Iskut and Telegraph Creek blockaded Shell's road access to the area. Shell seeks a court injunction that would allow them to have the Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrest the blockaders, but is ultimately unsuccessful in obtaining such an injunction. Shell's crews manage to access the area and begin road repairs.

* On July 27, 2007, a group of 13 prominent environmental NGOs write [ a letter] to Shell's executives in the Hague, urging them to suspend drilling plans in the Sacred Headwaters. Signatories to the letter include Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth International, [ ForestEthics] , Sierra Club, and the David Suzuki Foundation.

* On August 31, 2007, Rallies were held across British Columbia , including one outside the Vancouver Courthouse where Tahltan blockaders and Shell are scheduled to appear at an injunction hearing. Renowned Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki speaks at the rally.

* In September, Friends of the Earth International, Greenpeace and other NGOs ran an advertisement in the "Financial Times" with the headline "This Time It's Canada" and a photo of the Tahltan road blockade. [ [ "Protest against Shell takes campaign to British media"] , Globe and Mail, September 11, 2007]

* Shell crews spent the winter repairing numerous washouts along the length of the access road into the Sacred Headwaters.


* The Chiefs of the [ Gitxsan Nation] , located downstream in the Skeena watershed, called for the immediate suspension of coalbed methane exploration in the Sacred Headwaters [ [67] =x-66-11688 May 19, 2008 news release] .

* In April, the [ Outdoor Recreation Council of BC] included the Sacred Headwaters in its annual listing of British Columbia's most threatened rivers. [ [] "Sacred Headwaters listed as endangered"] , Smithers Interior News, April 2, 2008.]

* In May 2008, over 400 concerned citizens from the three affected watersheds gathered in Hazelton for the [ Sacred Headwaters Summit] . The event features ecologist Jack Stanford, the Pembina Institute and various other presentations. Attendees pledge to stand together to stop Shell's project. [ [ "Coalbed methane foes pack heated meeting"] , Prince Rupert Daily News, May 28, 2008]

* Also in May, concerned citizens from British Columbia traveled to Shell's Annual General Meeting in the Hague to protest the company's activities in the Sacred Headwaters. [ [ "Shell shareholders warned about coalbed plant risks"] , The Vancouver Province, May 22, 2008.]

* A 2008 resolution opposing Shell's drilling plans was officially endorsed by the [ Kitimat-Stikine Regional District] , [ Skeena Queen Charlotte Regional District] , United Fishermen and Allied Workers' Union, the village of Hazelton, British Columbia, the [ Town of Smithers] and more than half a dozen First Nations band councils.

* Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP, [ Nathan Cullen] formally opposed Shell's project, as do North Coast MLA [ Gary Coons] and Skeena MLA Robin Austin. [ A poll] conducted by Cullen shows twice as many opponents to Shell's coalbed methane as supporters.

* In June 2008, Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians used her [ acceptance speech] at the 2008 [ Canadian Environment Awards] , to denounce Shell's plans for the Sacred Headwaters. Shell is a lead sponsor of the Canadian Environment Awards.

* Shell announced it is postponing its spring drilling plans until fall 2008.



* Wade Davis, " [ Don't sacrifice the Sacred Headwaters.] ," "The Globe and Mail", October 8, 2007.

* Andrew Findlay, " [ A methane battle is brewing] ," "The Georgia Straight," August 23, 2007.

* Monte Paulsen, " [ A gentle revolution] ," "The Walrus," December/January 2006.

* Bassett, Monty, " [ Dewatering the holy headwaters] ," "Northword Magazine," Spring 2005.

Related Links

* [ Sacred Headwaters portal site]
* [ Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition]
* [ Friends of Wild Salmon]
* [ Shell Canada - Klappan Coalbed Methane]
* [ British Columbia Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, Coalbed Gas]

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