Methane Opposition Strong Says MP

~Kris Schumacher
According to a recent poll commissioned by Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen, seven out of 10 Northern British Columbians are opposed to coalbed methane wells in the region.

Wishing to verify the increasing concern from his constituents in the Skeena watershed about Shell’s proposal to drill 14 new gas wells at the headwaters of the Skeena, Stikine and Nass rivers, Cullen had McAllister Opinion Research conduct a scientifically-designed survey of a random sample of 400 residents of the region including Smithers, Terrace and Prince Rupert. The poll found that more than twice as many people oppose coalbed methane development than support it, and seven out of 10 people polled said that developments should not be located in our wild salmon watersheds.

Eight of the 14 coalbed methane wells Shell hopes to drill are located in the Skeena watershed.

However, the poll found that 33 per cent of residents in the region have not even heard about the proposed development.

Cullen said coalbed methane is a mostly unknown resource to the politicians in Ottawa, but that more and more elected officials from all parties are taking an interest, and that it’s becoming a growing concern outside the region as well.

He also believes the issue bares striking similarities to proposed fish farms in North Coast waters, and says that talking to constituents in Prince Rupert during the weekend, he is assured that a strong opposition to coalbed methane projects exists in our community.

“I recall our most recent struggle with fish farms on the North Coast, a very similar scenario. Government was only listening to industry, but local residents were becoming more and more concerned and over time the facts and the truth of the case went out, and the government has relented on forcing bad projects down our throat,” said Cullen.

“That’s how the system is really supposed to work, that citizens when concerned are able to influence the political masters. The provincial government has to remember who they work for, which is the people of British Columbia, not just narrow lobbyists from the oil and gas companies.”

The MP spoke with representatives from Shell on several occasions during the past year, and he made it known to them that the company would be facing an “extraordinarily difficult uphill battle” in moving forward with any projects in Northern B.C. headwaters, pointing to the historical opposition of Northerners for any projects with uncertainties and risks to the environment.

Cullen said the people of Northern B.C. need to be convinced the project is safe, and that the province must stop Shell’s exploration until residents have strong, scientifically sound information that shows wild salmon stocks and the northern lifestyle will not be adversely affected.

“I challenge Shell and the province to conduct public forums with me across the riding in areas that are affected, which to me means the Nass, Prince Rupert, Terrace, Smithers, the Queen Charlottes, because all of these areas are impacted by this massive project,” said Cullen.

“I expect the province and shell to show up to these public meetings when we invite them because if they want to be accountable to the people affected they have to do that in public,” he said.

A coalbed methane forum is being held in Hazelton in a few weeks time, a forum that Cullen will be attending and which he hopes will create more awareness and concern about the proposed gas project.