* Native leaders divided on pipelines

Brent Jang

[Website editor's note: Two articles, published Sept 30 and Oct 1, 2015,  on the proposed Energy East tar sands pipeline and the proposed gas pipeline and LNG plant in BC] 

Native leaders divided on oil-sands pipelines 

Two groups of First Nations have issued duelling statements on where aboriginal people stand on oil-sands pipelines, highlighting opposing native viewpoints toward the energy industry.

Aboriginal leaders from Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba said on Wednesday that they are keen to form a national alliance to oppose pipelines from northern Alberta’s oil sands.

The visiting delegation met in Vancouver with the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs to press the case for fighting proposals, such as TransCanada Corp.’s Energy East pipeline venture. Energy East is seeking to take unprocessed bitumen from Alberta to New Brunswick for export, although some of the raw commodity could potentially be refined in the East.

But a statement issued by a group of First Nations from northern British Columbia declared support for Eagle Spirit Energy Holdings Ltd., which envisages refining bitumen into finished products either in Alberta or northeast B.C., before piping them to the West Coast for export.

“Eagle Spirit’s proposal also fairly compensates First Nations for the risks posed to our traditional territories,” said a letter signed by 17 hereditary and elected chiefs, who sent their accord dated Tuesday to B.C. Premier Christy Clark, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall and federal Conservative Leader Stephen Harper. Forty-eight Lax Kw’alaams tribal leaders and members also signed the letter.

With Eagle Spirit’s plans, there are notable dissenting views. Lax Kw’alaams Mayor Garry Reece has said he opposes the pipeline that would enter his group’s territory. Given that the elected Lax Kw’alaams council has spurned Pacific NorthWest LNG’s proposed site on Lelu Island for exporting liquefied natural gas, it is hard to imagine widespread support for refined oil exports from a location near Lax Kw’alaams, he said.

A representative from Aquilini Investment Group, owner of the National Hockey League’s Vancouver Canucks, said during a June news conference that Aquilini backs Eagle Spirit because the concept is to transport through a pipeline refined products instead of tar-like bitumen.

David Austin, an energy lawyer with Clark Wilson LLP in Vancouver, said uncertainty lingers over which projects First Nations might support or oppose.

“It is not clear what the First Nations’ intentions are with respect to oil pipelines and oil product pipelines to tidewater. It will take some time to clear the air as to whether there is unanimous agreement on this point,” he said in an interview on Wednesday.

Eagle Spirit’s backers say they want to continue working with government and industry to study an “energy corridor” that would allow oil and natural gas pipelines to go across northern British Columbia.

By contrast, chiefs from Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba are warning about the environmental risks posed by energy pipelines, especially any originating from Alberta’s oil sands.

“All of these pipeline struggles across Canada are connected,” Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said in a statement. “Even if the pipeline does not burst on your territory or contaminate your sacred waters – even if the pipeline is built on the other side of Canada – we will all suffer the climate-change effects from increased tar-sands production.”

Chief Arnold Gardner of the Eagle Lake First Nation from Treaty 3 in Ontario said he is worried about further erosion of aboriginal traditions and increased pollution. “It is pure madness,” he said in a joint release with Mr. Nepinak and Grand Chief Serge Simon of the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake in Quebec.

In a resolution, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs pledged to support the three leaders in their efforts to challenge Energy East.


Lax Kw’alaams First Nation split over location of LNG terminal 

A rift has emerged in the Lax Kw’alaams First Nation over Pacific NorthWest LNG’s plan to export liquefied natural gas from Lelu Island on B.C.’s northern coast.

The disagreement among members of the Lax Kw’alaams focuses on whether Lelu Island should be rejected outright as the site of an $11.4-billion export terminal.

For more than five weeks on Lelu Island, there has been a protest camp spearheaded by Donnie Wesley, a Gitwilgyoots tribal leader who objects to the proposed terminal site because it is next to Flora Bank, an ecologically sensitive area that nurtures juvenile salmon.

But some prominent members of the Lax Kw’alaams are open to potentially having an export plant on Lelu Island, saying they want to examine the Petronas-led consortium’s efforts to address concerns about the project’s impact on fish habitat in Flora Bank, which is visible at low tide.

John Helin, a former Lax Kw’alaams chief councillor, said the key is whether Pacific NorthWest LNG is able to prevent environmental harm to Flora Bank in the Skeena River estuary. “I want to rely on good information about Lelu Island before deciding whether I agree or disagree,” he said in an interview. “You have to keep an open mind and find out all the facts before making decisions.”

Mr. Helin said he will be running for Lax Kw’alaams mayor in November against at least two other candidates, notably the incumbent Garry Reece. Mr. Helin is vice-president of Eagle Spirit Energy Holdings Ltd., which has secured the support of hereditary Lax Kw’alaams leaders for a pipeline that would carry upgraded oil from Alberta to Grassy Point, located near Lax Kw’alaams. His brother, Calvin, is Eagle Spirit’s president.

Robert Sankey, hereditary house leader of the Eagle clan of the Gitwilgyoots tribe, said he believes it is possible for Pacific NorthWest LNG to devise a suspension bridge and pier that avoids hurting Flora Bank, but the designs presented so far are not sufficient. “We are not against LNG development. We just don’t want Flora Bank to be disturbed,” Mr. Sankey said from Prince Rupert.

Last week, the Allied Tribes of Lax Kw’alaams filed a court claim for title to Lelu Island and Flora Bank in the Port of Prince Rupert, arguing that LNG export plans interfere with aboriginal fishing rights. There are nine tribes, including the Gitwilgyoots.

Mr. Reece said in a recent interview that the elected Lax Kw’alaams Band Council has not decided for or against Lelu Island, but he favours holding a community referendum with secret ballots to determine the native group’s formal position on Pacific NorthWest LNG. Mr. Reece headed meetings in May in which members in attendance stood up to overwhelmingly refuse to provide aboriginal consent by rejecting the consortium’s $1-billion cash offer over 40 years. Some members, however, complained that the voting process was flawed.

There are 20 B.C. LNG proposals, although fierce global competition means only three or four stand a chance of launching, industry experts say. Amid delays with LNG projects in British Columbia, Veresen Inc.’s Jordan Cove LNG in Oregon is positioning itself to become the first major venture to export natural gas in liquid form from North America’s West Coast.

Calgary-based Veresen hopes to open the Oregon terminal in 2019. A small-scale joint venture called Douglas Channel LNG, backed by Calgary-based AltaGas Ltd., is seeking to begin LNG exports in 2018 from a floating facility near Kitimat in northwest British Columbia.

The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave environmental approval on Wednesday to Jordan Cove LNG.

There haven’t been any final investment decisions made yet by LNG proponents in either British Columbia or Oregon.

[See http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/industry-news/energy-a... ]