By Gordon Hoekstra, Vancouver Sun
A B.C. First Nations group says it will not support Premier Christy Clark’s liquefied natural gas strategy unless the province withholds drilling permits for the proposed $6.5-billion Northern Gateway oil pipeline.
Enbridge has applied for provincial permits in 32 locations in northern B.C. along the proposed oil pipeline route to carry out work this summer meant to provide more information about below-ground conditions.
That work includes drilling to obtain rock samples and seismic testing to determine changes in rock type. Some of the work would require cutting trees, building trails and reopening logging roads.
The Yinka Dene Alliance — which represents six First Nations — has also sent a “cease and desist” letter warning Enbridge against trespassing on their traditional territories.
The group represents First Nations with traditional territories that encompass 25 per cent of the pipeline’s 1,170-kilometre route.
The B.C. government has a constitutional duty to us, and it needs to decide how much damage it is willing to allow Enbridge to do to its own relationship with First Nations,” said Nak’azdli chief Fred Sam.
“Is B.C. really going to grant these permits to allow Enbridge to drill in our territory?” he asked.
The B.C. Liberal government has rejected the Northern Gateway oil pipeline, saying the company has not properly addressed its environmental concerns.
At the same time, Clark has laid out a strategy to tap into northeast B.C.’s vast natural gas resources with new pipelines and plants to export liquefied natural gas from northwest B.C. overseas to Asian markets.
If the premier wants their support for the liquefied natural gas plan, she will have to work with First Nations on their opposition to Northern Gateway, said Nadleh Whut’en First Nation chief Martin Louie.
He said if the province grants the permits for work on the oil pipeline route, the First Nations would seek court action, and if that failed, use actions such as blockades to prevent the work from going ahead.
The premier’s office didn’t directly respond to the Yinka Dene’s call to withhold the drilling permits.
But Shane Mills, spokesman for the premier’s office, said, “As a province, we want to make sure all First Nations are fully engaged on the opportunities LNG presents for First Nations and the province.”
Calgary-based Enbridge applied for the work permits through the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
They did so in advance of a decision by the federal review panel, which wrapped up public hearings last week.
According to the Yinka Dene Alliance, Enbridge’s applications include permits for 16 drilling pads adjacent to the Salmon, Stuart and Muskeg rivers near the Nak’azdli First Nation.
Enbridge spokesman Ivan Giesbrecht said all the communities were notified about the work, and the company has offered to provide further information.
He added they’ve already had a number of positive meetings with aboriginal communities but would not disclose names.
Giesbrecht said the company committed during the federal panel review of its pipeline project to doing further studies, investigations and environmental assessments.
“We are not sitting and waiting. We want to learn more,” he said.
The resources ministry confirmed it had received 32 applications from Enbridge for investigative work in locations such as the terminal, tunnels, pump stations and key river crossings in northern B.C.
The ministry noted consideration of the permits — which are not for construction of the pipeline — is separate from the assessment of the entire project by the National Energy Board-led review panel.
“The province is legally required to consider the permit applications,” said forest and lands spokeswoman Vivian Thomas.