The day after Ottawa approved the $7.9-billion Northern Gateway pipeline, some B.C. aboriginal leaders warned Premier Christy Clark to stand firm against the project or risk jeopardizing First Nations’ support for LNG.
Clark has pinned her growth strategy for B.C. on liquefied natural gas, banking on five plants supporting 75,000 jobs and fuelling an $100-billion prosperity fund. (Analysts, however, suggest there will likely only be one or two built).
First Nations in B.C. have been much more open to LNG, while many are vehemently opposed to oil projects. Some are already in talks on LNG with the province and companies about environmental concerns and sharing in economic benefits. In contrast, First Nations have launched a legal action to stop the Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project.
The Enbridge “debacle” isn’t going to be helpful to the LNG dialogue, said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian chiefs.
“First Nations are watching very, very closely,” Phillip said Wednesday. “In the event Premier Clark weasels from the five conditions, I think it will send a very negative message to First Nations vis-à-vis LNG discussions.”
After the federal government approval Tuesday of Northern Gateway, the B.C. premier and her environment minister, Mary Polak, said the project had not met the province’s conditions. Those include a world-leading oil spill prevention and response system on land and on the sea, addressing First Nation rights and a fair share of economic benefits.
Polak said B.C. would refuse permits if the conditions are not met. About 60 permits are needed in B.C. to construct the project.
On Wednesday, Polak said in a written statement that the province and First Nations had demonstrated an ability to work together on LNG. “We will continue to strengthen our relationship by listening to concerns, by building a respectful dialogue and by building trust,” she said.
Coastal First Nations executive director Art Sterritt said the risk is real that the federal approval of Northern Gateway could endanger negotiations with First Nations in northern B.C. on the future of LNG development.
“(The federal government) has now left it to Premier Clark to make the situation clear, and to preserve a wider dialogue and considerations of resource development in B.C.,” said Sterrit.
Added Carrier Sekani Tribal Council tribal chief Terry Teegee: “If the provincial government comes down and approves (Northern Gateway), that could jeopardize LNG projects.”
Still, some First Nations are likely to continue talks on LNG.
First Nations are more open to natural gas pipelines than oil pipelines because, they say, in a worst-case scenario the gas will evaporate if a pipe bursts.
In April, two First Nations signed the first revenue-sharing agreement with B.C. over the proposed Aurora LNG development on their traditional territories near Prince Rupert. The deal with the Metlakatla and Lax Kw’alaams nations could be worth $15 million.
First Nations believe there may be able to ink deals for as much as $600 million per LNG project, a point laid out in a discussion paper produced by the B.C. First Nations Energy and Mining Council.
Jody Wilson-Raybould, B.C. regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations, said LNG remains a very different and more positive prospect for many First Nations than heavy oil.
“At least with LNG, there are discussions that are happening where voices are being heard and concerns are being addressed,” she said.
Wilson-Raybould said, however, that there is no doubt that more work is needed by the B.C. and federal governments to build better relationships with First Nations.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper special envoy, Doug Eyford, bluntly concluded earlier this year there had been no constructive dialogue between First Nations and the federal government on pipelines. He said Ottawa must build trust with First Nations.
B.C. premier warned to stand firm against Northern Gateway project or face LNG backlash