Federal minister told LNG plans in danger if Northern Gateway approved

On the eve of a major federal decision on Enbridge's $6-billion oil pipeline, a B.C. Aboriginal leader tells Minister Greg Rickford that its passage will "poison" the well with First Nations over LNG.

Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford - Tanker Summit - Mychaylo Prystupa
Aboriginal leaders in media scrum First Nations Marine Safety and Tanker Summit
First image: Federal Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford in media scum at First Nations Marine Safety and Tanker Summit on Musqueam territory on Monday. Photo by Mychaylo Prystupa. Second image: see caption info below.

The federal minister who will decide Northern Gateway's fate got a cool reception from B.C. Aboriginal leaders who banded together to not only oppose the oil pipeline, but to offer a new threat -- a promise to block the province's $100-billion-dollar-plus liquified natural gas (LNG) plans, if the Enbridge pipeline is approved.

“In the event that the Harper government is going to ram this through with decisions at the cabinet level, I think one of the fallouts from that will be a poisoning of the well with respect to the LNG efforts to develop First Nations support, for that set of proposals," said Grand Chief Stewart Phillips of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs.

"It’s going to completely undermine and damage what’s left of the relationship between First Nations and both the provincial and federal governments,” added Phillips.

Aboriginal leaders in media scrum First Nations Marine Safety and Tanker Summit

From L to R: Grand Chief Edward John with First Nations Summit; Grand Chief Stewart Phillips with UBCIC; and Regional Chief Jody Wilson-Raybould with Assembly of First Nations. Media scrum at First Nations Marine Safety and Tanker Summit on Musqueam territory on Monday. Photo by Mychaylo Prystupa.

The outspoken Aboriginal leader made the statements at a marquee First Nations oil tanker safety summit on Musqueam territory Monday morning.  The remarks add to his recent comments that Aboriginal people will block Northern Gateway in the courts, or worse - stand in front of bulldozers to stop the $6-billion pipeline. 

Minister Greg Rickford could not be reached for a reactionary comment, but he earlier told a packed gymnasium at the tanker safety summit that energy resource developments would fund government programs and create a huge number of jobs in a "once in a lifetime opportunity" -- a phrase often used by Premier Christy Clark.

Acknowledging the vocal concerns about oil tanker spills expressed by many coastal First Nations, he also said:

"We have heard the concerns that coastal peoples have for their waters."

"We must ensure First Nations are partners in everything that we do, from prevention, preparedness to emergency response."

Rickford added that his recent announcement in Prince Rupert of a Major Project Management Office, and the potential for a new First Nations "forum" will advance pipeline and resource discussions.

A request for comment from Enbridge was not responded. 

A final decision by Ottawa on the Northern Gateway pipeline is expected any day now.  Some environmental and Aboriginal leaders fear the federal government will simply "delay" its decision.

The Natural Gas Development ministry recently said that if just five LNG terminals are built on B.C.'s coast, the projects would draw $178 billion in investment.

Cumulative enviro-impacts

First Nations Summit Grand Chief Edward John said he worries about the cumulative effect of so many oil, gas, mining and hydro projects all hitting the same time, up north.

“In the north where I come from, if at least three of the [LNG projects] moving forward, there are at least six proposed LNG pipelines in the midstream, all of those go through my people’s territory, and our communities are sitting down and saying ‘what will the social impact be?’” said Grand Chief John.

The provincial estimate is, some 100,000 workers will be needed to construct the many criss-crossing LNG pipelines and coastal terminals in northern B.C. and also on the sunshine coast.

Province reacts

If the Northern Gateway pipeline is approved perhaps as early as this week -- all eyes will be on Premier Christy Clark.  In response to this story, her Ministry of Environment wrote:

"Our government understands the benefits economic development may bring to the province, but it will not be at the cost of our environment. Our five conditions provide certainty, predictability and transparency about our government’s position on any heavy oil pipeline project proposal," wrote a ministerial spokesperson Monday.

A recent Nanos-Bloomberg poll showed that 7 of 10 British Columbians either want Northern Gateway prevented or delayed at this time.

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