Protest against Shell takes campaign to British media

by Cathryn Atkinson

Native protesters and environmental groups are taking the next round of their fight against a coal-bed methane exploration project in a remote part of central B.C. to the British media.

A $20,000 advertisement decrying Royal Dutch Shell’s plan to drill wells in the headwaters region of the Stikine, Nass and Skeena rivers is running in the European editions of today’s Financial Times newspaper.

The headwaters area, known as the Klappan to the local Tahltan people, is home to a rich, year-round run of each of B.C.‘s five indigenous salmon species, as well as steelhead trout.

Members of the 400-strong Tahltan community have been holding a three-season blockade of a road into the territory, 640-kilometres southwest of Terrace, for the past two years.

Eight environmental groups – Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the Sierra Club of Canada, Oil Change International, Forest Ethics, Earthworks, the Dogwood Initiative and Rivers Without Borders – paid $19,477 for the one-time 1/8-page newspaper advertisement.

It shows a photo of three protesters, explains the importance of the territory to those who live there, and invites readers to visit a website on the subject.

Lisa Matthaus of the Sierra Club said they would considered buying more space in the Financial Times and other European newspapers if the first ad succeeds in getting their message to the business readers, many of whom are Shell shareholders.

“Some of the sponsors of the ad have had dealings with Shell elsewhere in the world, which is why they are concerned about what is going on here,” she said. “It’s an expensive tactic, if you want to put it that way, but it is an important one – to make sure the Shell executives in their headquarters in London know that we will make the resources available to make sure the world is aware of what is happening. This won’t be tucked away in the wilderness, and [we want] investors [to] know that the eyes of the world are watching.”

Rhoda Quock, a spokeswoman for the protesters, said she hadn’t seen the advertisement, but hoped it would secure international support for their blockade.

“The more publicity we get, the more people throughout the world that know about it, the better. We need all the help we can get,” she said. “No words can explain how beautiful the sacred headwaters are, or how important. It’s the place where we practise our culture. My six-year-old daughter even understands that if Shell goes in, it would be ruined.”

Ms. Quock said the aim of the protest and, ultimately, of the advertising campaign, is nothing less than persuading Shell to fully suspend its coal-bed methane exploration of the Klappan.

Larry Lalonde, a spokesman for Shell, said the project, for which the company has government permission to drill up to 14 wells, is still at the exploratory stage. He said it is not yet known whether there is methane in “viable commercial quantities.” The protests had delayed its work, he added.

Mr. Lalonde said the company was aware of the ad, but was not commenting before it was published. Shell recently won a court injunction in Ireland to evict protesters against a proposed refinery at Bellanaboy in County Mayo, but backed off a similar injunction in Vancouver against the Tahltan last Friday.