The pristine lands of the Sacred Headwaters will remain untouched for a little longer: after eight years of campaigning by communities as well as Overbrook grantee ForestEthics, Shell formally withdrew its bid to drill for coal bed methane in this area of British Columbia.
Eight years ago, Shell corporation expressed interest in drilling in the methane-rich region of northwest Canada, where there was enough gas to estimate the drilling of 4,000 wells. A remote region, it was not expected to be a difficult task to get approval from the government of British Columbia. They were wrong. The first explorations were met by members Tahltan First Nation, who stood at the crossroads and blocked Shell’s access into the Sacred Headwaters – a sacred land for the Tahltan. News of the protest grew, and over the years communities rose up and hundreds of residents took to the streets in protest.
With the help of ForestEthics, the communities were able to mount effective and united resistance to Shell. They developed a strategic “inside-outside” game plan, focusing on key discussions with B.C. government decision-makers and meetings with Shell Canada President, Lorraine Mitchelmore, while also maintaining substantial public opposition to Shell’s plans. In 2012, 100,000 people all said “No” to dirty energy and fractured landscapes.
The result: after discussions with the B.C. government, Shell decided to withdraw its bid. Further, the government announced it would not issue any future petroleum or natural-gas leases in the region - safeguarding the drilling moratorium in the Sacred Headwaters.
The victory underscores what is possible, even in the face of great wealth and influence. It was not just one organization that spoke out but whole communities that united, voices amplified through tools of technology and grassroots communication. It is a lesson that can be applied to future battles to be fought - and won.