First Nations push back against Eagle Spirit pipeline
By Gordon Hoekstra, Vancouver Sun,October 4, 2015
Key First Nations in northern B.C. refute there is consensus on an oil pipeline concept initiated by some coastal First Nation members.
Eagle Spirit Energy has issued a trio of news releases in the past week, claiming it has signed agreements and has the support of chiefs along the route of its proposed project — an alternate to Enbridge’s stalled $7.9-billion Northern Gateway project.
Eagle Spirit — backed by the Aquilini Group, which owns the Vancouver Canucks — hoped to gather First Nations support because the project would be First Nations-led and ship upgraded oil, not the molasses-like bitumen seen as particularly harmful to the environment in the event of a spill.
But First Nations representing vast traditional territories in north-central B.C. say it makes no difference that oil might be upgraded. And despite the recent public relations exercise, they say they still oppose the Eagle Spirit project because it would help expand oilsands production and be a risk to salmon-bearing rivers and the ocean if there was a spill.
“They can say whatever they want. Any expansion of the oilsands is something we are very much opposed to, so that hasn’t changed. That will not change,” said Yinka Dene Alliance coordinator Geraldine Thomas-Flurer.
The alliance represents five First Nations in north-central B.C., also adamantly opposed to the Northern Gateway route.
Lake Babine Nation, which is not part of the alliance and claims a large traditional territory, also does not support the Eagle Spirit concept.
“It’s not coming from us,” said Lake Babine chief Wilf Adam. “Every time we’ve been approached, we’ve said no.”
Eagle Spirit has yet to publish a route for its concept, but representatives say the route would be pushed farther north than Northern Gateway, away from important salmon-bearing rivers.
Eagle Spirit would move the oil pipeline terminus from Kitimat to near Prince Rupert, where they say Lax Kw’alaams hereditary chiefs and matriarchs have signed on in support.
However, Lax Kw’alaams elected mayor Garry Reece has warned that support is not universal in the community, which has already voted against a $1.15-billion benefits package for a natural gas project over environmental concerns.
Earlier this year, the group Coastal First Nations, which represents nine First Nations, excluding the Lax Kw’alaams, said Eagle Spirit’s claims of First Nation support was misleading because there wasn’t a single First Nation on the coast that supported oil exports.
In a letter to Eagle Spirit Energy in 2014, the Haida Nation said they hoped the company would abandon the oil pipeline idea.
In addition to support from some Gitxsan hereditary chiefs, Eagle Spirit has received public support from the chiefs of the Burns Lake and Nadleh Whut’en First Nations.
In an interview, Burns Lake chief Dan George acknowledged they did not have universal support, but said he believed the use of refined oil and moving the pipeline north would gather more support from First Nations.
George said he also supports the project because it will reduce the need for shipping oil by rail, a greater safety risk than a pipeline.
He pointed to the Lac Megantic rail disaster in 2013 that killed 47 people in Quebec as a warning.
Oil is not being shipped by rail to the northern B.C. coast at this point, but George said he believed it would happen eventually.
“My support is for the way they are going about doing all the environmental (work). All the bands along the route get to have their input,” said George.
He said they have a “couple” of investors but would not name them.
The Eagle Spirit idea, first floated in 2013, includes an oil upgrader and pipeline at a cost of $18 billion (which the Aquilini Group says it and its partners would underwrite). It would need to win producer and customer backing.
Experts have said, however, that a pipeline concept based on using refined oil is a non-starter because that’s not what Asian customers want and oil companies would not back building costly upgrading capacity.