Economic gains plain to see, but environment, wildlife issues remain, chiefs say
By Derrick Penner, Vancouver Sun
British Columbia’s First Nations are beginning to reap the benefits from the exploratory work going into the province’s potential liquefied natural gas industry, but concerns over the scale of development are catching up with the process.
First Nations, labour and community concerns were among the topics discussed Thursday on the second day of the province’s International LNG in B.C. conference in Vancouver. And while Premier Christy Clark spoke of achieving “a remarkable amount of consensus” on moving forward with the resource, aboriginal community leaders came with messages of how much more needs to be done to get there.
“Until (government and proponents) deal with aboriginal rights and title, and environmental issues, they don’t have social license,” said Terry Teegee, Tribal Chief of the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, referring to the roster of proposed pipeline projects with routes across the territories of his member communities.
Clark, in her remarks during a luncheon panel discussion, repeated the government’s position that LNG represents “a generational opportunity” for including First Nations in the mainstream economy.
“If you live on top of a sea of energy, then for heaven’s sake, you should benefit from its extraction,” Clark said.
Teegee spoke of the environmental costs that have to be dealt with. He said his people are dealing with six projects in total, including five pipelines and upstream gas development. All of them need to accommodate First Nations’ interests and that is becoming difficult for Teegee’s people to deal with, he said, especially on the tight time frames companies have talked about for deciding whether to proceed with their projects
“We’re being rushed, not only by proponents but by (the) markets and government, to make an informed decision, and it’s quite a challenge,” Teegee said in an interview outside of the conference sessions.
For the eight communities he represents, which surround Prince George and stretch west, the potential for pipelines to fragment wildlife habitat is a major concern, Teegee said.
On the coast, there are concerns about the impacts of LNG tanker traffic on fish and wildlife resources.
“So whether those can be mitigated or compensated (for) … is yet to be seen,” Teegee said.
In the province’s northeast, the scale of natural gas drilling, which involves the contentious practice of hydraulic fracturing, is giving pause to First Nations represented by the Treaty 8 Tribal Association.
Liz Logan, Tribal Chief for the Treaty 8 Association, attended the conference to press the point that LNG-related development is being proposed in a region that is already feeling the effects of industry, including gas drilling, mining and hydroelectric development.
“We’ve told the province over and over again, we need to do a regional strategic environmental assessment (with) baseline studies of our treaty territory before these projects continue,” Logan said.
Their concerns range from shrinking numbers of caribou, which the First Nations no longer hunt, to the amount of water to be used in the hydraulic fracturing process of extracting natural gas.
“We need to start looking at the cumulative impacts of all of this now before we move forward with anything else,” Logan said.
However, there were also expressions of support for LNG development from First Nations’ groups.
The First Nations Limited Partnership, a business partnership among 15 communities along the route of the Pacific Trails Pipeline — one of five proposed gas pipelines — issued a statement renewing their support for that project, which has already delivered $140 million worth of contracts to its member joint ventures and businesses.
The Haisla First Nation near Kitimat is an FNLP member. Its Chief Ellis Ross told a panel discussion audience that LNG-related projects have offered his community a “working definition of reconciliation on the ground” when it comes to addressing aboriginal interests.
Three LNG proposals would have terminals in Haisla territory at Kitimat, including the Chevron-Apache Kitimat LNG and Shell-backed LNG Canada, and Ross said the proponents and province have reached an informal protocol for including Haisla interests in their proposals.
He said proponents now look for ways to accommodate Haisla interests, whether in mitigating environmental impacts or sharing economic benefits, in their applications for permits before submitting them to the province.
“There’s no doubt our people are benefiting,” Ross said. “All our people are working, they’re getting mortgages, getting cars, getting RRSPs, and that’s what we’re after, to build a future for our young people today and for the next 20, 30 years.”