Making room for oil in Kitimat, B.C: First Nations response to LNG Development

The coverage of First Nations response to liquefied natural gas (LNG) development in British Columbia has carried over into 2015. At first it may seem like the headline could read: “First Nation groups have changed their tune regarding energy infrastructure in Kitimat, B.C”, but this is a simplified version of the story. In reality it is much more complex, especially in light of opposition to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline and continuing First Nations negotiations to ensure that development on traditional lands will happen on their terms.

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Photo by Ariel Smith. Burns Lake, BC, August 2013

During my trip to Kitimat in 2013, I was made aware of the eclectic mix of pure pristine wilderness and burgeoning economic development in the region. The Rio Tinto Alcan plant isn’t far from the fishing hole turn-off, nestled alongside the towering coastal mountains and dark green forest, making this forced harmonization hard to miss. The overlap of development and wilderness in Kitimat mirrors itself in the opinions of those I met. Economic opportunities are welcomed with opened arms, but communities are well aware of the cost to their coast and the island-spotted Douglas Channel. For now, it seems like LNG development is the lesser of two evils and if handled properly could mean important economic benefits for the community and many First Nation groups. It is viewed that natural gas projects are less prone to leaks and spills than oil development is, and therefore seems like the safer choice that may reduce the impact on traditional lands. This view is behind why many have strongly opposed Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline, as exemplified in protests such as this:

The most recognized project proposal in the region has been the Kitimat LNG Terminal Project, a joint effort between Chevron Canada and Apache Canada. The project will be located along Bish Cove, close to Kitimat’s port. The project has been approved but is currently delayed due to lagging investment decisions [1] . Aside from this project, 18 different LNG projects have been proposed for the Kitimat region [4], which could amount to almost 3 million dollars in revenue shares for First Nation communities [2]. Below is a video from Apache Canada explaining the Kitimat LNG plans [3]:

An estimated 40% of the northern First Nations (20 groups or so) who will be impacted by the development of LNG plants and pipelines have agreed to terms and conditions regarding revenue shares with the BC government and responsible companies [5]. The Haisla and Wet’suwet’en First Nations are among the 20 groups affected. Both groups are aware of the economic benefits brought on by energy infrastructure in the region and want to make sure they are included in such opportunities.

LNG Terminal Project location on the Douglas Channel. Source: Globe and Mail

Aboriginal communities in Kitimat and throughout British Columbia have not been incorporated into energy development projects in the same way non-Aboriginal Canadians have [2] . Chief Karen Ogen from Wet’suwet’en remarks that this has caused a “dependence on declining funding from the federal government”[5], forcing many to sit and wait for economic help.

Individuals, families, and leaders from northern B.C First Nations are trapped economically because of the exclusion from energy projects. It is not an issue of ‘voiceless’ Canadians; it is a problem of deaf governments and energy proponents, choosing to listen to bits and pieces rather than the whole story. Governments struggle with complex stories because their goal is to build consensus among citizens. The story of LNG support does not jive well with the Enbridge and Canadian government agendas, because by supporting this kind of development, many groups are firm in their decision to keep intrusive oil off their lands.

References:

1. National Energy Board. Kitimat LNG NEB Export Licence Application: Appendix 2 – Project Description and Status. July 27, 2012.

2.Eyford, Douglas R. Foraging Partnerships, Building Relationships: Aboriginal Canadians and Energy Development. November 29, 2013

3. LNG Canada. “What is the transportation process for natural gas?”. Retrieved February 5, 2015 from http://lngcanada.ca/faq-items/what-is-the-process-of-getting-natural-gas-from-the-ground-to-the-end-customerB.C. aboriginal group eyes Enbridge’s

4. Globe and Mail. “Kitimat terminal for LNG project”. (2014, November 27). Retrieved February 1, 2015, from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/industry-news/energy-and-resources/bc-aboriginal-group-eyes-enbridges-kitimat-terminal-for-lng-project/article21803843/

5. Vancouver Sun. “More First Nations signing on in support of LNG projects in northern B.C”. (2015, January 7). Retrieved February 2, 2015 from http://www.vancouversun.com/business/energy/More First Nations signing support projects northern/10709543/story.html?__lsa=08f2-a93a#ixzz3Qu3

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