A risky kind of development
Traditionally feared by coal miners for its explosive qualities, methane trapped in coalbeds has a long history of being considered dangerous (the expression "canary in the coal mine" stems from this history as the birds were used to detect these highly-flammable methane deposits).
Banking on the canary in the coalmine
In 25 years coalbed methane (CBM) has transformed from an obscure energy source into a viable option for natural gas production. In British Columbia, the provincial government is promoting CBM as a "clean, environmentally safe energy source." However, many in the US and Canada strongly disagree with this characterization.
Amazingly, a large array of citizens and organizations stood up against Shell's proposed CBM projects in the Sacred Headwaters—and won. But this victory is only temporary. Now, we are working to address the real problem—BC's weak regulatory process for CBM developments.
Below are some facts about the Sacred Headwaters and CBM development that the BC government must take into account:
- The Sacred Headwaters is a critical habitat for numerous threatened species, including grizzly bears, wild salmon and stone sheep;
- The Sacred Headwaters is where three of Canada's greatest wild salmon rivers, the Skeena, Nass and Stikine, all begin their journeys to the Pacific Ocean;
- Shell's interest in the gas beneath the Sacred Headwaters may be related to its holdings in Alberta's monumentally destructive Tar Sands, where
natural gas is used to generate the steam required to create synthetic
- Coalbed methane projects require more roads and pipelines than other natural gas projects;
- The cumulative loss of habitat from roads and pipelines is substantial and is particularly hard on large mammals such as grizzly bears that need large contiguous tracts of wilderness for security cover;
- Coalbed methane development has already caused serious damage where it has been used in places such as Wyoming, Montana and more recently, Alberta;
- Trees removed to create roads and pipelines can no longer serve as carbon sinks to absorb carbon dioxide, one of the major greenhouse gases;
- Coalbed methane wastewater is usually high in salts and often contains heavy metals, making it toxic and difficult to dispose of;
- The disposal process for this wastewater is largely untested and carries significant risks;
- Coalbed methane projects also deplete large amounts of water from local ground aquifers;
- Coalbed methane projects' runoff and erosion due to land clearing increase sediment in streams;
- Coalbed methane effects on the water carry serious implications for local ecosystems and species, such as wild salmon;
- The Tahltan First Nations people have hunted and trapped in the Sacred Headwaters for millennia;
- Coalbed methane developments do not result in significant local employment after their construction phase;
- For environmental, social and economic reasons, the Tahltan strongly opposed Shell's proposed project in the Sacred Headwaters;
- We stood with the Tahltan, and in 2008, the BC government announced a two-year moratorium on Shell's plans to destroy the Sacred Headwaters.