Drilling at proposed LNG terminal starts despite First Nation opposition
Prince Rupert Port Authority orders protesters to stay 50 metres away from marine work
Petronas-led Pacific NorthWest LNG has started test drilling off of Lelu Island, location of its proposed $11.4-billion liquefied natural gas terminal in northwest B.C., despite First Nation opposition.
Members of several First Nations — including the Lax Kw’alaams and the Gitxsan — appeared to stop drilling on the weekend, but the presence of Prince Rupert Port Authority boats has allowed the work to start, Lax Kw’alaams First Nation hereditary chief Don Wesley, also known as Sm’oogyet Yahaan, said Tuesday.
Port authority personnel told him to stay at least 50 metres away from a drilling rig when he approached with his boat, said Wesley, a hereditary chief of the Gitwilgyoots, one of the nine tribes of the Lower Skeena River region.
“They are thinking that nobody is watching,” he said, referring to the work now underway.
Wesley said he is seeking legal advice to determine whether he should adhere to the 50-metre warning.
Wesley is leading a three-week-old occupation camp on Lelu Island in an effort to halt the project over concerns it will harm salmon-rearing eel grass beds on Flora Bank adjacent to the island.
The terminal and a pipeline have been approved by the province, but a federal review has been held up over concerns about a bridge and peer that skirt one edge of Flora Bank.
Wesley said he is particularly concerned the company was carrying work out on Flora Bank, including drilling and extracting eel grass.
Pacific NorthWest LNG said Tuesday it is doing neither, and that its drilling work is taking place away from Flora Bank.
Pacific NorthWest spokesman Spencer Sproule said engineering consultants Stantec are carrying out eel grass surveys on Flora Bank to determine its density, length and species but are not removing any grass.
The drilling work is the third phase of engineering work to gather data on soils in the marine environment, said Sproule.
He said the soil investigation is being conducted with the participation of First Nation monitors, but could not say from which First Nations.
This spring, Lax Kw’alaams members rejected a $1.15-billion benefits package from the company and province over concerns about Flora Bank. After the benefits rejection, the First Nation said is was not opposed to LNG development, but Flora Bank was off limits.
The First Nation issued a message last month to its members that alternative sites were being explored, but company president Michael Culbert told a LNG conference they were exploring modifications to the site, not an alternative location.
Pacific NorthWest LNG officials have declined to say if the drilling work underway is to examine another location for the bridge and peer.
An AltaCorp Capital report on leading LNG projects in B.C. released Monday — following the conference that included Culbert — concluded a major redesign is not possible because it would result in a delay of several years.
Instead, AltaCorp said they believed more likely is that the bridge and pier would be relocated farther from Flora Bank.
The Prince Rupert Port Authority said Tuesday it is monitoring the boats near the drilling work.
“Should a situation ever arise where the Port Authority encounters refusals to cease dangerous actions within the harbour, the situation could be referred to RCMP for consideration and involvement if appropriate,” port spokesman Michael Gurney said in an email.