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Pushing Enbridge pipeline through without First Nations' consent?

Last week, some of the biggest players in the North American oil and gas markets gathered at the Four Seasons Hotel in Vancouver for the Canadian Oil and Gas Export Summit. While protesters outside the hotel yelled “No tankers, no pipelines, no tar sands,” industry insiders presented their visions for the future development of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline project, the Keystone XL pipeline, and Alberta tarsands oil.

This is the second of a special three-part series on the Summit.

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  • $300 million in procurement opportunities
  • $3 million per year community investment fund
  • $300 million in marine joint ventures
  • $100 million in economic activity for First Nations
  • 10 per cent of project in equity to 45 First Nations

Asked how many First Nations groups had signed equity, Fisher said that 24 had signed so far (the deadline was May 31). When an audience member remarked that 24 out of 45 didn't seem like much, Fisher replied that he knew that Enbridge wouldn't get every group to sign and that two-thirds was the goal.   

When a representative from Communica asked if Enbridge was disclosing which Frist Nations groups had signed the equity agreement, Fisher said no. "One First Nation (the Gitxsan) did come out of the closet last December, much against our recommendation not to, and it kind of it blew up in their face." 

He noted that the pipeline had much more backing from First Nations in Alberta, and that the support "dwindled as you move toward the coast."

An ill-informed "bandwagon"?

Fisher related the story of his university student daughter, who was asked by friends if she wanted to join a protest against Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline. He said none of her friends seemed to know why they were protesting and were simply doing it because it "seems like fun": this ignorance, he said, was the basis for many people in BC currently opposed to the Northern Gateway pipeline. 

"They don't know the issues – they're just jumping on the bandwagon," he said. 

He drew attention to the World Economic Forum report finding that Canada's recent drop from 9th to 12th place in global competitiveness, and argued that Northern Gateway would need to be approved to make the country more attractive for foreign investment.

Asked what would need to happen to push through an "action that is unpopular but in the best interests of the nation to open [oil] markets," Fisher suggested that the Conservative government's new omnibus Bill C-38 may help.

"Bill C-38 now gives reciprocal ability to the federal government. In the past, the NEB (National Energy Board) could recommend a project and feds in cabinet could turn it down. [With Bill C-38], if the NEB recommends not to proceed with a project, cabinet could overrule that as well.”

In other words, the National Energy Board could say no to Enbridge Northern Gateway, and the federal government could overrule this decision to approve the pipeline. 

However, he spoke of the necessity of having social license from First Nations and BC communities in the building of the pipeline. 

Pugliaresi, who said,  as an American, he found the discussion of First Nations fascinating, noted that there may be "hidden benefits" for oil proponents in the US if Enbridge were approved. 

"There may be a hidden benefit in this for the US," Pugliaresi said. "It's likely to improve our regulatory program. Keystone (XL) is a regulatory failure. The scarce resource is petroleum -- that's the resource we want to maximize the production of in terms of the health of North American's a good thing for the US as well."

Fisher agreed on the project's importance, but acknowledged the difficulty of getting it through without strong support from First Nations and Northern BC communities. 

"Are we prepared to put $6 billion in a project that doesn't have the communities' support?" he asked. "That's a tough question to answer." 

This story is one in a series about the Canadian Oil and Gas Export Summit. Click here for part one: Koch brothers' "ideological twin" in Vancouver to strategize with oil industry  and part three: BC Premier Christy Clark not working hard enough for LNG, energy expert says 

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