Alaska may now hold the key to moving bitumen from the Alberta oil sands to Asia through a C$17 billion project being promoted by First Nations leaders.
Eagle Spirit Energy believes it can sidestep a campaign to ban oil tanker traffic from leaving the British Columbia coast by delivering 1 million barrels per day by pipeline to a tanker port at Hyder, an old Alaska gold-rush town, rather than the original plans to build a terminal at Grassy Point about 15 miles south of Hyder in British Columbia.
“It’s a complete answer to any tanker ban,” said Calvin Helin, Eagle Spirit president and chairperson, who said more than 30 First Nations in Alberta and British Columbia are lined up to become equity partners in the scheme which has financial backing from Vancouver’s Aquilini Group.
Major Canadian oil sands producers including Suncor Energy, Cenovus Energy and MEG Energy want the venture to proceed, while investment broker AltaCorp Capital is poised to organize financing.
First Nations oppositionBut two major alliances of First Nations - Yinka Dene Alliance and Coastal First Nations - have voiced their opposition to the project.
“Literally no First Nation on the coast is in favor of Eagle Spirit,” said Art Sterritt, executive director of Coastal First Nations. “It’s a bit misleading for Eagle Spirit to hold a press conference in Calgary and announce things have changed in British Columbia because they haven’t.”
A spokesperson for the Yinka Dene said her group’s six member nations are flatly opposed to “oil transportation through our lands and waters.”
In response, Helin said Eagle Spirit has secured agreements with First Nations along 80 percent of his company’s proposed route.
He said the business case will eventually win over opponents, claiming partners will receive compensation “of a completely different order” from what was offered by Enbridge for its Northern Gateway plan to ship bitumen to Kitimat.
Helin said leading petroleum economists have been consulted, but their findings are contained in non-disclosure agreements that could remain sealed for months or years to come.
Sterritt said Eagle Spirit has yet to offer acceptable terms. “They got through a few more doors than Enbridge, but never got any more support than Enbridge,” he said.
Agreement with RoananWalter Moa, president and CEO of Roanan, a Vancouver-based private company that has owned property in Hyder for 40 years, said his company has signed an agreement to work with Eagle Spirit.
He said Hyder is an ideal location for a tanker port because of its deep waters.
Moa hold the Financial Post that Roanan holds port, townsite and mineral claims in the area of the town, adding: “Alaska is in general very supportive of resource development.”
Helin said discussions with the Alaska government and others impacted by the proposal have just started.
He said construction of a terminal would cost about C$1 billion, while an additional C$500 million would be spent on spill prevention measures, including tugboats, barges and training.
Transport Canada sessionsTransport Canada has held 75 sessions to discuss a moratorium proposed by the Canadian government that would effectively ban the establishment of an oil tanker port in Canadian territory on the northern British Columbia coast.
Eagle Spirit has started a C$1 million fund-raising campaign to pay for a legal challenge of the proposed ban, while urging the government to start a “new process whereby the interests of all affected, especially indigenous and other communities in the region, are considered concurrently with a robust industry and national economic assessment, which recognizes the importance of ensuring Canada’s world-leading environmentally and socially responsible oil and gas industry can reach the growing demand of global markets.”
Helin said First Nations are completely opposed to a government policy being made by foreigners, such as American-financed environmental non-government organizations, “when it impacts their ability to help out their own people.”
He said those communities “are sick and tired of being dependent on the government and want to be able to move forward with non-transfer payment funding.”
The project would “deliver more benefits in terms of employment, business opportunities and revenues and cannot be duplicated from government programs they are seeking to escape,” Helin said.