The development of British Columbia’s (BC) emerging liquefied natural gas (LNG) sector represents a multi-generational opportunity for shared prosperity. Today, there is strong First Nations support for projects that will create the cleanest LNG industry in the world.
Last week at the Canada LNG Export Conference in Vancouver, industry stakeholders and experts from across the complete LNG value chain made clear that Aboriginal consultation must be the top priority for LNG proponents in Canada.
The reality on the ground is that a new modus vivendi is gradually emerging and Aboriginal Canada is enjoying unprecedented economic and social progress as a result, with more to come. Resource development in B.C. has proceeded at a historic pace in recent years. Sure there have been stumbling blocks, but this boom has been facilitated by unprecedented co-operation between the resource industry and First Nations.
International and domestic observers may see First Nations as a challenge for Canadian LNG companies, but industry has found First Nations to be excellent partners that are definitely open for business provided projects align with their goals and principles.
The “Squamish Process”: Getting to Consent
The Squamish Nation in B.C., through an exercise in self- government developed their own independent process called the “Squamish Process,” for the technical review of environmental issues and community engagement. Goals to protect their aboriginal title and rights interests and conducted their own independent assessment to identify what the impacts would be on Squamish Nation interests. The process began when Woodfibre LNG first applied to undergo a Squamish Nation environmental review. The process was a new and voluntary consultation step for both companies, one that went beyond provincial and federal government regulatory processes and reviews.
Panelist Mr. Stout, VP Market Development, and External Relations at FortisBC and Jennifer Siddon, Woodfibre LNG spoke to FortisBC’s natural gas pipeline planned to go through Squamish Nation territory to Woodfibre LNG’s proposed $1.6-billion export LNG plant.
Both companies told the audience that by developing mutually-beneficial working relationships with the Squamish Nation is important to them, understanding, respect, open communication and trust continue to be their aim when working with the Nation. The key take away from the two companies was to start the conversation early and do not make the assumption that it’s a ‘No’ because it’s a resource project.
In mid-2015, Squamish Nation issued 26 conditions for the Woodfibre LNG Project, 13 of which apply directly to Woodfibre LNG. The environmental assessment agreement outlines the conditions and how Squamish Nation and Woodfibre LNG will work together to ensure they are fully implemented. The company agreed to the conditions and in late 2015, the Squamish Nation approved an Environmental Assessment Agreement for the proposed Woodfibre LNG project and issued an Environmental Certificate to the company. In addition, the company conducted extensive public engagement beyond regulatory requirements in local communities.
Through the collaborative Squamish Process, FortisBC responded to the Squamish Nation’s concerns with the initial pipeline plan and changed the project’s plan and design to include the use horizontal direct drilling (HDD) to install a segment of the pipeline (tunnel cost approx. $500mil) through an Estuary on traditional territory; thus, minimizing impacts to the surface.
This process continues to this day. Squamish Nation ruling on the FortisBC pipeline is still pending. Woodfibre LNG stated they intend to make a final investment decision by the end of the year.
Steelhead LNG president Victor Ojeda and Malahat Nation CEO Renee Racette co-presented on the proposed Malahat LNG Project,
consisting of up to three floating liquefaction production facilities and a potential floating storage and off-loading unit (FSO). The LNG facility is to be situated on the shoreline of Malahat Nation-owned land, formerly known as Bamberton.
In 2014, Steelhead LNG contacted the Malahat Nation and expressed an interest in the Bamberton site for a potential floating LNG facility with the idea that they would look for a way to secure or buy the
property. Malahat told Steelhead LNG that the Nation was looking to purchase Bamberton, that the Nation was already in the process of purchasing two lots at Bamberton and were planning on purchasing the whole site over time. Steelhead LNG agreed to support Malahat and wait for the Nation to establish a way to make the purchase the Bamberton site on its own. This was Steelhead LNG’s first step to developing a close working relationship with the Malahat Nation, one based on trust and respect.
The Bamberton site (5.25-square kilometer) was purchased by the Malahat Nation last year in what Racette stated was one of the largest aboriginal land purchases in Canadian history. The purchase of these lands more than tripled the size of Malahat’s land holdings and was the first deal of it’s kind in Canada.
The LNG development partners shared comments on shared views on executing a collaborative consultation process to maximize the project and minimize the risk of costly delays through collaboration.
Steelhead LNG began consulting with the Malahat well before entering the regulatory process or advanced design phase and entered into a mutual benefits agreement and long-term lease last year. The agreement took into account the Nation’s Comprehensive Development Plan. The project’s significant economic impact include training and employment opportunities for Malahat Nation members, members of neighbouring First Nations and other local community members.
Racette expressed her Nation wanted to participate in the LNG project so they can improve the quality of life for their people and bring Nation members back to the community. They want to grow their economy in ways that are respectful of the environment, their traditions, and values, and that provide social and economic benefits to their community and members of four neighbouring First Nations. It is evident that Steelhead LNG shares those goals.
The evidence shared at the conference was that many Aboriginal people and communities, the Squamish Nation and Malahat Nation (as well as the Lax Kw’alaams), want reasoned development. They are being clear and consistent in articulating what they want, and governments and project proponents are respectfully involving Aboriginal communities in project planning from the earliest concept stage. The PNW, Woodfibre LNG and Steelhead LNG projects are just the latest proof that we all have work to do to get there, more listening to do, but get there we will, despite the hiccups along the way.
Caroline Keddy is a Public Affairs and Digital Engagement Consultant and Founder of leading natural gas and energy digital platforms, facilitating natural gas publications and dialogue, including Natural Gas Europe.
Photography By: Peter Helm, GeoMedia Productions
Main Image: Steelhead LNG president Victor Ojeda and Malahat Nation CEO Renee Racette
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