Northern Gateway crew turned away from B.C. First Nations territory shows pipeline project faces tough road

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Steve Mertl
A recent incident involving an Enbridge Inc. crew working on the Northern Gateway project and a B.C. First Nation provides a hint of what the Calgary-based energy company can expect if the oil sands pipeline is ever approved.

The Canadian Press reports the Gitga’a First Nation turned away an Enbridge spill-response survey crew earlier this month. It won’t be the last time work on the as-yet unapproved mega-project is tripped up.

The re-election of the resource-friendly Liberals in this week’s B.C. election may have let Northern Gateway’s backers breathe a little easier.
“I think British Columbians have spoken quite clearly that economic development and economic prosperity is a priority, but not at the expense of the environment,” Enbridge spokesman Ivan Giesbrecht told the Globe and Mail after Tuesday’s vote.

“You know, that has been our message all along as well, and we are certainly committed to working with the Liberal government to move that forward.”
Premier Christy Clark set five conditions for backing the $6-billion project, including economic benefits for B.C. and environmental safeguards, which to the oilmen in Calgary means it’s just a matter of negotiation.

But one of those conditions involves satisfying legal obligations under aboriginal and treaty rights, and that may be a tough slog.
[ Related: Northern Gateway panel issues draft pipeline conditions ]

Many First Nations along the nearly 1,800-kilometre-long pipeline route from Alberta across northern B.C. to a planned export terminal near Kitimat oppose the project. They’re worried a pipeline rupture would dump chemically diluted heavy crude into pristine waterways. Likewise, an accident involving one of the supertankers coming in and out of the terminal could have Exxon Valdez-like consequences on the coast.

Enbridge CEO Al Monoco says he has support of 68 per cent of the 45 B.C. First Nations affected by Northern Ga …
Enbridge might feel more confident about the project, Art Sterritt of the influential Coastal First Nations coalition told the Globe, but “as far as we’re concerned, it’s still dead.”

Sterritt said he doubts Enbridge will be able to mean the “very onerous” conditions set by Clark.

“For example, oil spill prevention hasn’t changed in 25 years,” he said. “We don’t think Northern Gateway is ever going to pass the test on that.”
The Gitga’at live in the village of Hartley Bay, which is near where the B.C. Ferries ship Queen of the North ran aground and sank in 2006, taking two lives. Hartley Bay residents rushed to their boats in the middle of the night in response to a distress call and helped rescue 100 passengers and crew.

Gitga’at Councillor Marven Robinson told CP the band received a fax from Enbridge with no contact information on it, telling the village its survey crew would be coming.
“A few days later the boat showed up with crews,” Robinson said. “This is bad timing. All of our people are down at our seaweed harvesting camp. This is really a lack of consultation.”

Giesbrecht said members of the survey crew went to the band office to let people know they were in the area and “if anybody had any questions, feel free to come and speak to us.

“At the invitation of the Gitga’at, we met with them for approximately 30 minutes, had a very cordial meeting, and at the end of it, we followed their wishes and we respectfully left the area,” he told CP.

Anyone who’s dealt with First Nations knows it takes time to build relationships and the process is hands-on. An unsigned fax is probably not your best calling card.
Giesbrecht conceded there may have been a miscommunication and said the company hoped for future meetings.

But that probably won’t help. First Nations have felt alienated from the environmental-review process, which wraps up next month. The panel’s report is expected by the end of the year. If it favours the project going ahead, expect more confrontation with aboriginal opponents.

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B.C. First Nations in the past have used blockades to express their opposition to resource development on their traditional territories. But the real battles likely will be in the courts.

Aboriginal representatives at Enbridge’s annual shareholders meeting earlier this month warned they’ll tie up the project.
“Are you willing to risk extensive legal battles and opposition until my generation is in their 40s?” Trevor Jang, a 20-year-old youth from the Small Frog Clan of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation near Terrace, asked Enbridge CEO Al Monaco, according to the Financial Post.

Monoco responded that Northern Gateway has support across Canada, including 68 per cent of the 45 B.C. First Nations directly affected.
Aboriginal leaders have brushed off Ottawa’s appointment of Vancouver lawyer Doug Eyford as a special envoy to explore ways of reducing the tensions between First

Nations in Western Canada and energy companies.

“It’s going to be a long, hot summer,” Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation said in March, according to CBC News. “We have a lot of issues at stake.”