Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry
January 2020

Vol. 25, No.04 Week of January 26, 2020

United Nations joins pipeline fight

UN says work should be stopped on pipeline, hydro dam, without Indigenous communities’ consent; Horgan rejects Coastal GasLink case

Gary Park

for Petroleum News

Canada’s resource-based provinces and its energy industry are caught between a rock (in this case the United Nations) and hard place (based on a small splinter group of First Nations leaders in a remote corner of northern British Columbia) in a dispute that could determine the economic shape of the country.

At stake are three mega ventures - LNG Canada’s C$40 billion plan to establish an outlet for British Columbia natural gas with Asian buyers; the C$15 billion expansion of the Trans Mountain bitumen export pipeline; and the C$9 billion Site C hydro dam in northeastern B.C. designed to produce 1,100 megawatts of power.

A UN committee said it was worried that work was going ahead on the projects without the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous groups.

Coastal GasLink pipeline

The immediate test case involves the Coastal GasLink pipeline to ship gas from B.C.’s Montney field to a liquefaction plant and tanker terminal at Kitimat, with a threatened blockade of construction by hereditary leaders who are determined to defend their rights in unceded Wet’suwet’en lands.

Their claimed territory embraces a crucial pathway through the coastal mountain range, although the current pipeline operator TC Energy could use an alternative right of way at a cost running to hundreds of millions of dollars.

But the small group of hereditary chiefs is outweighed by all 20 Indigenous communities along the pipeline right of way who have signed access and benefits agreements with TC Energy and the B.C. government and embraced the pipeline as an acceptable environmental risk. Those signatories include the elected council of the Wet’suwet’en.

Although they have attracted sympathy from First Nations across B.C., the hereditary chiefs are fast running out of backing from the courts and the governments of Canada and B.C.

Premier Horgan

Even B.C. Premier John Horgan, long an opponent of pipelines crossing his province to export terminals on the Pacific Coast, has brushed aside the objections of the hereditary leaders.

He said earlier in January that the Coastal GasLink pipeline is vital to his region’s economic future by securing an LNG industry.

Horgan said courts have ruled in favor of LNG Canada and he is determined to see work proceed on the pipeline.

“We want everyone to understand that there are agreements (on Coastal GasLink) with Indigenous communities that want to see economic activity and prosperity take place,” he said. “All the permits are in place for this project to proceed ... and the rule of law needs to prevail in B.C.”

There are also signs that Coastal GasLink opponents are undermining their position with word from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, RCMP, that it has opened a criminal investigation after discovering animal traps and gasoline-soaked rags near a blockade set up by the hereditary chiefs.

RCMP officers said they found three stacks of tires covered by tarps and trees, along with jugs of gasoline, diesel, oil and kindling.

Coastal GasLink President David Pfeiffer said his company respected the rights of individuals “to peacefully and lawfully protest so long as their activities do not jeopardize the safety of the public, our employees, our contractors or the RCMP.”

Artifacts issue

Separately, a Wet’suwet’en tribe was challenged in its claims to have found two ancient stone tools and other artifacts near the pipeline right of way.

The B.C. Oil and Gas Commission said the “soils upon which the artifacts were found would not typically contain any such cultural artifacts,” although a “definitive determination of their exact location or origin cannot be made.”

However, hereditary chiefs have virtually exhausted their legal options now that the B.C. Supreme Court has extended an injunction it imposed a year ago when 14 Wet’suwet’en protesters were arrested for blocking access to pipeline work camps.

UN enters arena

While the pipeline dispute is working its way towards a final resolution, the United Nations made a surprised entry into the arena when its Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination pressed Canada to stop work on the three big resource ventures - Coastal GasLink, the Trans Mountain expansion and Site C - until they obtain approval from affected First Nations.

The UN stand attracted an immediate rebuff from Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage, who labelled the UN as an “unelected, unaccountable body” that has no business trying to direct work on energy megaprojects in Canada.

“With all the injustices in the world, it’s beyond rich that (the UN) would seemingly single out Canada - one of the greatest champions of human rights, democracy and the rule of law,” she said in a statement.

Savage said that a section of Canada’s Constitution formally recognizes and entrenches Indigenous rights.

“It is ridiculous that the UN is targeting Canada and it’s infuriating,” she said.

Horgan said legislation his government implemented last year under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is “forward looking (and) not retrospective. We believe it will open up opportunities not just for Indigenous people, but for all British Columbians.”

For now much attention is focused on the RCMP, which is responsible for enforcing the court rulings against construction site blockades.

A statement from the RCMP said its priority was to engage with Coastal GasLink, Indigenous communities and the B.C. government “to facilitate resolution without police enforcement.”

It said the RCMP’s senior commander in B.C. “has already been in direct contact with representatives of all stakeholder groups, including hereditary chiefs.”

Petroleum News - Phone: 1-907 522-9469
[email protected] --- https://www.petroleumnews.com ---

Copyright Petroleum Newspapers of Alaska, LLC (Petroleum News)(PNA)©1999-2019 All rights reserved. The content of this article and web site may not be copied, replaced, distributed, published, displayed or transferred in any form or by any means except with the prior written permission of Petroleum Newspapers of Alaska, LLC (Petroleum News)(PNA). Copyright infringement is a violation of federal law subject to criminal and civil penalties.