Defiant northern Chief galvanizes BC First Nations against Premier’s LNG plans
The “Fort Nelson incident” has united First Nations against speedy approvals of a $78 billion industry – potentially “destabilizing” the Premier’s entire strategy.
The actions of a young, tough-talking First Nations leader in northeast B.C. last week, that sparked the embarrassing reversal of a cabinet decision to fast-track natural gas plants, appears to be rallying province-wide Aboriginal opposition to Liquified Natural Gas plans.
On April 16, 33-year-old Fort Nelson Chief Sharleen Gail held up an eagle feather at an LNG industry summit in her territory as she emotionally ordered B.C. government officials to exit the conference, to the sound of Dene drummers.
“My elders said, you treat people kind, you treat people with respect… even when they are stabbing you in the back. So I respectfully ask government to please remove yourselves from the room,” stated Gail at the time.
Speaking a week later, Gail states the moment was a difficult, but necessary step. The former 13-year employee of Spectra Energy said she is not against oil and gas development, but worries about huge LNG impacts to the air and watershed, as well as hunting and fishing.
“I’m new at this, right? But I know what’s right, and I know what’s wrong. I don’t think the way the government is pushing this through is going to work for anybody,” Gail told the Vancouver Observer Tuesday.
“So I think that [the B.C. government] is facing a major legal and political destabilization to its LNG strategy,” she added.
The video-captured incident, uploaded to YouTube, is now being seized by First Nations leaders across B.C. to tell Premier Christy Clark to slow down her LNG plans and respect Aboriginal land and environmental concerns, or risk seeing her entire LNG economic strategy – worth $78 billion – go up in smoke.
Many of these First Nations leaders toured Fort Nelson by helicopter with the Chief, including National Chief Shawn Atleo, as part of last week’s LNG summit. But by the end of the summit, the “love in” for LNG was gone.
“This is the end of the love in on LNG,” said Coastal First Nation director Art Sterritt on Tuesday.
“Everyone was trying to make it work, but when everyone took off the rose-coloured glasses, you realized everyone was getting a raw deal,” he added.
The so-called “Fort Nelson incident” has spurred 28 First Nations bands and political organizations — including the First Nations Summit — to sign a Declaration to put B.C.’s LNG Strategy “on hold.”
Problem is, delays could be costly. B.C. is in a footrace with the U.S. and Australia to export natural gas to Asia. Whoever wins could deny others. Billions in B.C. LNG investments are at stake.
Critical to the hoped for LNG boom is Fort Nelson. The First Nation, in BC’s northeast corner, sits on top of the largest gas deposit in the province. Two of the largest LNG coastal export facilities in Prince Rupert and Kitimat would also draw gas from this remote area.
Chief Gale has demanded a one-on-one meeting with Premier Clark, citing what she calls the failure of three B.C. cabinet ministers – Rustad, Polak and Coleman — to deal with her honestly.
Late today – nearly a week later – the Premier’s office told the Vancouver Observer that Christy Clark would be “happy” to meet with Chief Gale.
The dramatic deterioration in B.C. aboriginal relations over LNG began just before the LNG summit, when Chief Gale gave Aboriginal Relations Minister John Rustad a helicopter tour of Fort Nelson’s nearby boreal territory – now criss-crossed with roads for what could be thousands of new natural gas wells and hydraulic “frack pads.”
The two leaders shared meals, and the Chief told the Minister about the “cumulative environmental impacts” that could result from rapid LNG development. Most worrisome, says the band, is the need for between “15 and 520 billion litres” of fresh water for fracking over two decades.
Minister kept Fort Nelson in dark about LNG fast-tracking: Chief
But during Rustad’s entire two-day visit, said the Chief, the Aboriginal Relations Minister still had not informed her of a recent cabinet decision that eliminated environmental assessments for sweet gas plants.
“No, Minister Rustad didn’t mention anything… This man comes into our community. He’s well aware of the decisions that are going to be made,” said Gale.
“It was very disheartening that you have people who are looking after this province who are beating around the bush. These are huge projects.”
Following his departure, the LNG shale gas conference began. Top delegates from government, industry and First Nations attended.
Natural Gas Development Minister Rich Coleman was also piped in via videoconference, to speak about his government’s commitment to First Nations LNG engagement, and world-class environmental standards.
But soon, word trickled down of the B.C. cabinet’s decision (called an Order in Council) to fast-track LNG gas plants. It was a legal change that, if left unchecked, would have given Fort Nelson First Nation just 30 days to “comment” on where and when plants would be built.
But by that time, Minister Rustad was already several hundred kilometres to the south, at Mauricetown First Nation, trying to revive talks with the Wet’suwet’en — a critical pipeline-territory, where the leaders are dead set against LNG. A road blockade against the LNG industry has been in place for two years.
An incensed Chief Gale took action. She arranged for her to speak to the sensitive talks to the south via her cell phone.
A phone was dramatically put to a microphone at the event. The minister, along with 300 community members, listened to the the Chief’s demands. She said LNG was to be halted “until our nation and our treaty is respected and our concerns about our land and our waters addressed.”
CAPP contacted about BC’s reversal on LNG
Within hours, a red-faced Clark cabinet scrambled to rescind its decision to fast track sweet gas plants. Ministerial apologies ensued.
But controversially, Environment Minister Mary Polak issued a media release that appeared to have more regard for Calgary’s oil and gas industry, than B.C.’s Aboriginals.
“The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) has been made aware of this decision, and respects the need for our government to have further discussions with First Nations,” said Minister Polak in the short April 16 press statement.
“That just goes to show you who is leading the charge here. Why are they pushing new laws and policies without consultation without First Nations?” reacted Gale on Tuesday.
First Nations uniting against LNG fast-tracking
Coastal First Nation director Art Sterrit was at the LNG summit, and said the Fort Nelson Declaration has united nearly all B.C. Aboriginal leaders against the province’s “stealthy” LNG fast-tracking manoeuvres.
Worrisome for many leaders, he said, has been the recent changes to the Parks Act which allow for oil and gas companies to do pipeline exploration and test drilling in provincial parks, such as the Grizzly Bear Park, without First Nations approval.
Likewise, north central B.C. First Nations with the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council were also asked by the province recently to approve pipelines in their territories within 30 days.
“BC is trying to hurry up the process,” said Sterrit on Tuesday. “First Nations are being told you’ve got 30 days here, 30 days there.”
“If you’re all by yourself, dealing with government, that’s one thing. But if you begin to find a pattern, like Fort Nelson, Treaty 8 and others trying to address the same issues, then you’ve got more strength.”
LNG pushed as an economic miracle
The Premier has long promoted LNG as a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to get B.C. out of debt, raise the standard of living, and employ tens of thousands of people. The province has concluded revenue sharing deals with the Haisla near Kitimat, and Lax Kw’alaams and Metlakatla First Nations near Prince Rupert.
There are now 13 proposed LNG export facilities, and several LNG pipelines.
Aboriginal signatories to Declaration to halt LNG
First Nations Summit
Coastal First Nations
Council of the Haida Nation
Burns Lake Band
Carrier Sekani Tribal Council
McLeod Lake First Nation
West Moberly First Nation
Lake Babine Nation
Doig River First Nation
Blueberry First Nation
Dene Tha First Nation
Stellaten First Nation
Nautley First Nation
Halfway River First Nation
Kwakiutl First Nation
Fort Nelson First Nation
Takla Lake First Nation
Carcross Tagish First Nation
Lytton First Nation
Namgis First Nation
Selkirk First Nation
Prophet River First Nation
Saulteau First Nation
Kwicksutaineuk Ah-kwa-mish First Nation
Major LNG projects
- Kitimat LNG (Chevron/Apache, fed by Pacific Trails Pipeline – blockaded by Wat’su’ten)
- LNG Canada (in Kitimat, Shell, fed by Coastal GasLink Pipeline – blockaded by Wet’suwet’en)
- Prince Rupert LNG (Ridley Island, BG Group, fed by Spectra WestCoast Gas Connector)
- Pacific Northwest LNG (Lelu Island, Petronas, fed by TransCanada Prince Rupert Gas Transmission Project)
Posted on April 23, 2014, in Oil & Gas and tagged Chief Sharleen Gail, Fort Nelson First Nation, fracking bc, liquid natural gas, natural gas, Pacific Trails Pipeline. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.