Northern Gateway setback could mean opportunity for aboriginal energy proposal

Calvin Helin doing power point presentation in his button blanket regalia.

Calvin Helin doing power point presentation in his button blanket regalia.

The Aquilini family, which owns the Vancouver Canucks, said it will underwrite the estimated $18 billion pipeline proposal as long as it gets support of all First Nations through whose territory the pipeline would travel

VANCOUVER – A First Nations-backed organization has partnered with the Aquilini Group to propose a new pipeline to compete with the struggling Enbridge Northern Gateway project.

Eagle Spirit Energy and Aquilini stated Monday they have stolen support from two First Nations bands in Burns Lake and Fraser Lake who had granted conditional support for the Enbridge route and have now switched allegiance.

The announcement was attended by at least 20 B.C. aboriginal chiefs. And the consortium claims to have support from the majority of First Nations along their proposed routes.

The announcement came days after First Nations leaders revealed Enbridge is offering to give natives a much bigger stake in its project. The overtures, they say, came from Jim Prentice, a former Conservative minister of aboriginal affairs who was hired to revive Enbridge’s stalled negotiations with First Nations.

Winning First Nations support is key to any pipeline proposal to ship oil originating from the Alberta oilsands to B.C. through traditional territories.

Enbridge faces opposition from some First Nations groups who say the company has not addressed long-standing territorial and legal concerns.

Eagle Spirit and Aquilini raised the stakes by saying if their pipeline received approval, it would not carry heavy bitumen but would transport refined oils produced at an upgrader plant in Alberta or northeastern B.C. That promise alone could tip the balance in their favour, they said, because First Nations groups they consulted universally cited their opposition to the transport of bitumen.

The Aquilini family, which owns the Vancouver Canucks as well as a vast array of development and agricultural companies, said it and its partners will underwrite the estimated $18-billion cost of the pipeline and upgrader refinery. David Negrin, the president of Aquilini Group, said the project is slowly building steam as First Nations along the route recognize there is a viable alternative to the Enbridge proposal.

Calvin Helin, the president of Eagle Spirit Energy, said the group has the support of the majority of 30 First Nations in B.C. and is working on securing the rest to get what he called the “social licence” to operate within their territories. Also attending the meeting was Luigi Aquilini, the patriarch of Aquilini Group.

The proposal comes mere months before the federal government is expected to decide on Enbridge’s proposed route from Alberta to Kitimat.

Enbridge said Monday it has not been informed of support withdrawn by any of the 26 aboriginal “equity partners.” It too boasts of 60-per-cent support from the aboriginal population along its proposed route.

The company is banking on Prentice to help smooth relationships with the remaining First Nations.

But that effort comes too late for many aboriginal groups, according to Eagle Spirit’s Helin, who is also a member of the Tsimshian First Nation community of Lax Kw’alaams. He said he and Negrin met with aboriginal communities for a year and most complained that they had not been properly consulted by Enbridge.

“It seems to me that the only licence that matters is the social licence,” Helin said.

Members of Yinka Dene Alliance during anti-Enbridge rally.

Members of Yinka Dene Alliance during anti-Enbridge rally.

Last week the Yinka Dene, a group of First Nations whose territory covers a quarter of the proposed Enbridge route, met with federal officials and formally rejected the pipeline. The decision came about the same time Kitimat residents voted overwhelmingly in a non-binding referendum to also reject Northern Gateway’s terminus in their town.

All of that trouble for Enbridge spells opportunity for Eagle Spirit and Aquilini, who have spent a lot of time building trust among aboriginal groups.

“The reason we have been successful in dealing with First Nations for more than 20 years is that we take things very slow and we build that trust,” Negrin said in an interview. “We know that you can lose that relationship in a single day.”

The Aquilini Group has been on a tear lately, expanding its relations with First Nations groups. Last week it announced it had formed a three-way partnership with the Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations to develop the 16-hectare Willingdon lands in Burnaby. It is also has residential housing developments with the Tsawwassen First Nation and the Tsleil-Waututh, and has built housing for Musqueam.

Route of the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipelines.

Route of the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipelines.

The Aquilini Group has even enlisted the power of its Vancouver Canucks hockey team to boost aboriginal relations. Last year it sent players, coaching staff and management to Prince Rupert, near where Eagle Spirit is based, to participate in a traditional drum welcome of the Tsimshian First Nation, as well as meet with fans. They then went to the Haida Gwaii First Nations community at Old Masset, where they participated in a longhouse traditional welcoming ceremony.

This is the third oil industry-related proposal to emerge since Enbridge said it wanted to build a $6-billion heavy bitumen pipeline from the Edmonton area to Kitimat. Kinder Morgan has since filed a proposal with the National Energy Board to build a twinned pipeline along its southern route to Vancouver, and newspaper mogul David Black has floated the idea of building a $13-billion oil refinery at Kitimat to process oil before shipping overseas.

Negrin said Eagle Spirit and Aquilini are considering three possible ports, including one at Anyox far north of Prince Rupert and another in the Prince Rupert area. A third location hasn’t been publicly identified because negotiations are still underway, he said.

However, last year Helin’s company began exploratory talks with area First Nations to build an oil refinery at Grassy Point near Lax Kw’alaams, which is already the site of a liquefied natural gas terminal proposed by a consortium of international companies.

Helin would not discuss the proposed terminus points, saying Eagle Spirit had signed non-disclosure agreements with a number of First Nations.

Helin likened Enbridge’s consultation with aboriginal groups to be the equivalent of offering “beads and trinkets” in return for exacting a route that would carry dangerous goods that could ruin a First Nation’s territory.

Under established Canadian law, First Nations must be meaningfully consulted with and compensated by companies and governments wanting to operate in their territories. That law is proving to be a potent issue for pipeline companies wanting to build new routes from Alberta’s oilsands developments to B.C.’s west coast. If Enbridge’s route is approved, Helin said he expected many legal challenges.

Ivan Giesbrecht, the communications manager for Enbridge Northern Gateway, said his company expects that Eagle Spirit and Aquilini will have to meet the same five conditions set out by Premier Christy Clark for provincial support. They would also be expected to meet the same 209 conditions that the joint review panel has laid down for Enbridge’s proposal to proceed.

He added that Enbridge expects legal challenges and will deal with them as they come.

Reporters questioned what expertise either Eagle Spirit Energy or Aquilini have in the area of energy transportation.

“You can buy just about any experience you need,” Helin said.

Negrin said Aquilini has been approached by a number of oil and gas companies, and expects to form partnerships with industry experts. He said Aquilini is also developing contacts in China for purchase of finished products.

But all that won’t happen unless Eagle Spirit Energy gets buy-in from every First Nation along the proposed route, Helin said. It expects to finish consultations with bands by late summer. It had not wanted to go public with its plans, but the federal government’s looming deadline with Enbridge made that impossible, he said.

Chief Ray Morris of the Nee Tahi Buhn First Nation in Burns Lake said his group decided to withdraw support from Enbridge because it wasn’t in the best interests of his community. Chief Archie Patrick of the Carrier-Sekani’s Stellat’en First Nation in nearby Fraser Lake also said his group opposes Enbridge and endorses Eagle Spirit Energy’s proposal.

Posted on April 14, 2014, in Indian Act Indians, Oil & Gas and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. There should be no pipelines at any cost. One oil spill from any kind of energy, coals too is dangerous to the rivers, animals, people.

  2. This proposal is STUPIDER than Enbridge’s. Can anyone be any denser to the whole idea that no bitumen off the coast of Northern BC. We voted NDP federally and provincially. We said no. No to even stupider proposals masked as the great hope of the future. The proposal coming from the people it does shows how jaded egos look. Stupid!

  3. Thanks for the map. Good article.

  1. Pingback: Northern Gateway setback could mean opportunity for aboriginal energy proposal | Warrior Publications « The Turning Spiral

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