BC Natives fear disastrous oil spill inevitable
By Gordon Hoekstra & Trish Audette, Edmonton Journal, January 7, 2012
The Gitga’at First Nation has been saying no to the Northern Gateway pipeline project since 2006. The project will bring more than 200 huge tankers annually through the waters next to their tiny community of 160 in Hartley Bay at the entrance to Douglas Channel on B.C.’s northwest coast.
The risks and effects of an oil spill are simply not worth any economic benefits, which the First Nation view as nil, says Marvin Robinson, a spokesman for the community.
It’s a familiar refrain among B.C. First Nations.
Despite the argument that opening up a new market for Alberta oilsands in Asia will benefit all Canadians — and an offer of a 10-per-cent ownership stake in the pipeline for First Nations — almost all First Nations’ voices in British Columbia have been raised in protest.
Enbridge, the company behind the Northern Gateway project, says as many as 40 per cent of the First Nations groups directly along the proposed pipeline route are already taking the equity deal. Spokesman Paul Stanway does not expect to identify which groups, or whether they are in B.C. or Alberta, have signed on until later in the spring, but the company expects a majority of the nearly 50 First Nations with territory along the route to eventually sign on to its ownership offer.
However, the lack of resolved land claims in B. C., along the proposed pipeline route has some, including NDP aboriginal affairs critic Linda Duncan, comparing the upcoming Northern Gateway hearing process to the 1970s Berger Inquiry. Those hearings ultimately stymied the building of the Mackenzie natural gas pipeline through the Northwest Territories because of unresolved aboriginal claims.
“It’s not like Alberta where by and large (treaties are long settled), except for some specific claims where they feel that their treaties have not been lived up to,” said Duncan, Edmonton-Strathcona’s MP. “All along that line you’re not going to have treaties, you’re going to have unresolved claims. So it’s far more complex.”
Court decisions, including at the Canadian Supreme Court level, have stipulated that First Nations must be consulted and accommodated when their traditional lands are affected by industrial development. According to documents obtained by The Journal, even if the pipeline project is approved, Ottawa anticipates legal challenges from First Nations groups could hold construction back.
More than 60 First Nations along the pipeline route, Fraser River and west coast have signed their names to a declaration calling for an “unbroken wall of opposition” to pipelines and oil tankers along the coast. Among those are the Gitga’at, whose concerns increased following the sinking of BC Ferries’ Queen of the North in 2006.
The fallout from the sinking — the leaking of diesel fuel and oil onto surrounding beaches, including clam beds — woke band members up to the potential harm of a larger oil spill, said Robinson, who runs guided tours of the remote coastal area.
“It’s almost like a test run. You get to see little mistakes and things that shouldn’t happen. We’re talking about a really light oil — diesel — (from the Queen of the North). Imagine if it’s one of these (large oil tankers). That’s the part that really scares us,” said Robinson.
Some of the tankers that would feed off the Enbridge pipeline will be able to carry as much as two million barrels of oil. Called VLCCs — Very Large Crude Carriers — their length is longer than three football fields.
The Gitga’at are among nearly 20 First Nations from B.C. that have signed up as interveners in regulatory hearings. Thirteen Alberta aboriginal groups, including Edmonton-area First Nations and Métis settlements, have also applied for intervener status.
Only one B.C. First Nation has declared its support publicly. When Gitxsan hereditary chief Elmer Derrick announced the nation in northwest B.C. had signed an ownership deal that would provide $7 million over a 30-year period, it sparked an immediate battle with other leaders in the community who say they don’t support the project.
Unlike in B.C., most Alberta First Nations have not said whether they support or reject the 1,172-kilometre pipeline.
Rather, written evidence, affidavits and requests for more information generated by First Nations groups and submitted to the joint energy and environment hearing board show groups want to know more about the economic benefits of the pipeline, and they are concerned about its impact on traditional lands, cultures and hunting practices.
Pages of traditional knowledge reports ask how Enbridge will compensate for damages to traditional territory, whether beavers on certain trapping routes can be relocated, and what the effect on grizzly populations will be. Members of some Alberta First Nations have submitted lengthy affidavits listing animals, fish and plant life they expect could be compromised, from big horn sheep to chokecherries and traditional medicines like sweetgrass.
If most Alberta First Nations are mum on whether they ultimately will support the pipeline, at least one is saying no to the Northern Gateway, however.
Driftpile First Nation chief Rose Laboucan said that, following the recent completion of a traditional land-use study, the community of 2,000 has rejected the project. About 1,000 band members live on the Driftpile reserve, west of Edmonton.
“The permanent right of way will be about a 25-metre-wide scar running through the territory, harming the plants and animals, things we rely on,” said Laboucan.
She said it is ridiculous to believe there is not going to be an oil spill.
“I understand there has to be progress. I understand they want markets outside of Canada, to Asia. But at the same time, when do we balance our Mother Earth? In my opinion, it’s in pain now,” said Laboucan.
The band had reached a deal earlier with the Pembina Pipeline Corp. to build a safe house in the community over a different project, noted Laboucan.
But she said Enbridge’s take-it-or-leave-it approach of its ownership offer in Northern Gateway turned the community off.
Driftpile’s study, a draft of which was submitted to the hearing board last month, carried 43 recommendations, including that a community interpreter be hired to work with the Northern Gateway consultation team to assist community understanding of the project, that members of Driftpile “receive employment opportunities or monetary compensation as a result of project effects” on traditional territory, and that more field visits and research be done prior to construction.
First Nations who oppose the Enbridge project stress they are not opposed to economic development — but it depends on the development.
The Nadleh Whut’en First Nation, located in north-central B.C., has signed on to an ownership deal with the $1.2-billion Pacific Trails natural gas pipeline, but is opposed to the Enbridge oil pipeline.
The community of 470 supports the natural gas pipeline because if there was a rupture the gas would dissipate, says chief Larry Nooski.
But he points to the more than 22-year-old Exxon Valdez tanker spill in Prince William Sound in Alaska, where research has shown that oil remains in the environment.
Copies of briefing notes to federal Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister John Duncan, generated by his department in June 2011 and obtained by The Journal in December, offer some insight as to what the federal government is weighing in terms of effects on aboriginal communities in both provinces.
“The Northern Gateway would cross key watersheds that are home to salmon stocks on which the local Aboriginal communities rely. Some First Nations insist that the risk of an oil spill is too great and some have also expressed opposition to the (review panel) processes and alleged a lack of adequate Aboriginal consultation,” researchers write in a four-page document, a set of briefing notes provided to the minister over a year-long period. “The First Nations feel the reliance on the (joint National Energy Board and Environmental Assessment Agency panel) process to act as a one-time opportunity for Aboriginal groups to provide information about Aboriginal interests will undermine consultation in a very serious way.”
The document indicates Aboriginal Affairs contributed $270,000 to the hearing panel to support Aboriginal consultation and public participation.
Ottawa counts just two reserves as being crossed by the pipeline: Alexis Nakota Sioux in Alberta and the McLeod Lake First Nation in B.C. Traditional territories are also to be crossed, however, which is why Alberta groups like the Enoch Cree, Alexander, East Prairie Métis, Montana, Samson Cree, Whitefish (Goodfish) Lake, and others have applied to be heard.
With files from Dave Cooper
Posted on January 7, 2012, in Defending Territory, Oil & Gas and tagged Enbridge pipeline, Indigenous resistance, Northern Gateway, oil and gas pipelines+Indigenous resistance, pipelines+BC. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.