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Does Shell Decision Signal New Approach to Energy In B.C.?

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At a time when much of the focus on Canada's energy sector is on where we lag, it's important to applaud examples of strong leadership.

That's what Shell Canada and the British Columbia provincial government showed Tuesday in walking away from a proposed coal bed methane development in a region of northwestern British Columbia known as the Sacred Headwaters.

In withdrawing its proposal, both Shell and the province recognized that the proposed drilling and fracking project — which would have involved drilling more than 4,000 wells across more than 400,000 hectares of wilderness — would have too great an impact on the salmon-based economies of local and downstream communities in the region.

Is this the beginning of petroleum companies and governments recognizing that there are places and cases where fossil fuels should be left in the ground? Where environmental, social and ecological impacts outweigh the traditional, economic bottom line? One decision doesn't suggest a trend, but we're hopeful that Tuesday's news suggests a new approach to energy development in the province.

Shell and the B.C government Tuesday demonstrated the kind of leadership that British Columbians have been seeking. According to Harris Decima public opinion research released this past summer, 63 percent of British Columbians said they wanted to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal.

Controversy first erupted in the Sacred Headwaters region — the watershed of the Skeena, Nass, and Stikine Rivers — in 2004, when Shell drilled three test wells in the area, exploring for coal bed methane. In response, the Tahltan First Nation and downstream communities mobilized around significant concerns with the impacts of the proposed development.

As a result, the provincial government imposed a moratorium on coal bed methane development in the region, a ban that was set to expire Tuesday.

Instead of extending the moratorium, or resuming activities, Shell walked away to explore other opportunities elsewhere, in less sensitive ecosystems. In response, the B.C government is set to announce that it won't allow any further exploration or development of petroleum or natural gas in the region, making the moratorium effectively permanent.

Local First Nations are now looking to develop clean and renewable energy in the region, and are keen to support development that is compatible with their salmon-based economy and cultural heritage.

I am proud that Clean Energy Canada at Tides Canada was able to support local efforts to create this solution, an example of how we can fulfill a positive shared vision of a prosperous low-carbon Canadian energy economy.

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