Province puts new coal exploration in the Sacred Headwaters on hold

The provincial government has put a one-year hold on new coal exploration licences in the Klappan area of Tahltan territory in northwestern B.C. In the meantime, the Tahltan Central Council and the government will work toward an agreement on coal development in the area also known as the Sacred Headwaters.

The Klappan Coal Licence Deferral Area Order affects 62 current coal exploration applications in an area of about 255,000 hectares. This does not include the only approved coal exploration tenure in the that area, Fortune Minerals’ Arctos Antracite project that provoked Tahltan blockades earlier this year.

“This is one positive first step toward permanent protection of the Klappan forever,” said Annita McPhee, the President of the Tahltan Central Council in an interview today.

She said the order is a tangible result of the Tahltans’ Shared Decision-Making Agreement signed with the provincial government last spring. It was part of a Tahltan attempt to gain some control over an onslaught of proposed mining, hydro, and other industrial development in its territory.

“The Premier has asked us to consult with communities, First Nations and industry,” said provincial environment minister Mary Polak in a press release today, “to potentially develop a provincially designated protected area in the Klappan. The deferral of coal tenures supports this effort towards achieving our common objective.”

For the past few years the Tahltan have walked a fine line. Their involvement in, and support of, some industrial projects has resulted in a very high employment rate. They have fought other projects, with varying success. At the same time they are trying to influence development through benefit agreements and partnerships. But the Sacred Headwaters appears to be off limits.

In September, following a blockade of its coal exploration site by the Tahltan, Fortune Minerals paused its exploration work in the Sacred Headwaters, saying it wanted to give the Tahltan and the government a few months to talk.  In 2012, Shell relinquished its shale gas rights there, with some compensation from the provincial government, following years of Tahltan protests.

McPhee says the new one-year moratorium on new coal exploration “gives us temporary reprieve. It is going to be a long journey to protect the Klappan.”

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