A number of Northern chiefs have put their support behind a planned oil pipeline that would carry crude from Alberta to the west coast.
The Eagle Spirit plan differs from the Northern Gateway plan in a few ways. It includes building a refinery so that the pipeline would not have to transport bitumen oil. Spokesperson Marc Storms also said that there was an emphasis on gaining social license from First Nations before moving forward.
“We won’t do this project unless you’re on board,” said Storms.
The inevitability of oil reaching the coast one way or another was a reason to support the project according to Storms.
“We’ve had enough meetings, oil is going to flow… Part of the First Nation concern is oil by rail, also part of the province’s concern probably,” said Storms.
“So you combine things where First Nations actually have a meaningful economic ownership stake, they also get to lead the environmental process and create new environmental stewardship laws based on traditional laws.
“It’s sort of the first time someone has come and said ‘we need you, we know we can’t get any project done without you. So if you’re interested we’re ready to go further, if you’re not, bye-bye.’
“We’ve got something like $3.8 billion worth of investments in First Nations projects in the Lower Mainland anyway.”
Vancouver-based Aquilini Group, a large construction company and owner of the Vancouver Canucks, is a driving force behind the project.
“My basic understanding is Luigi Aquilini basically said why aren’t people doing this the right way? It just makes total sense,” said Storms.
“This is a family business. They don’t have corporate structures that put profits over people. They don’t have shareholders who are going to pound their fists down and say ‘I don’t care, we’re going to get this done, we’re invested.’
“They are banking a project like this because they believe the First Nations will lead it.”
Not all Gitxsan chiefs are impressed.
“You’ve got two chiefs there and that’s it. If they had more [support] they would have had more chiefs with them,” said hereditary Chief Norman Stephens, who does not want any pipelines coming through the territory.
“I don’t want gas pipelines going across, but most certainly can’t have an oil pipeline going across.”
Gitxsan Niist/Basxhalaha hereditary Chief William Blackwater said there is not enough information to support the pipeline.
“They were here in the spring last year, and they couldn’t answer a lot of questions.
“As a matter-of-fact we asked them where is the pipeline right away. They told us ‘we’re just following the Enbridge [route],” said Blackwater.
“When all the pipelines are in the ground, the aboriginal people will be forgotten. I think Eagle Spirit is working for Christy Clarke.”
Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen does not see an oil pipeline in the region happening any time soon.
Cullen has proposed a bill that would ban oil tanker traffic off B.C.’s north coast. Part of it allows for exceptions to be made for projects with high support, or social license.
“At first I was curious about if it was going to be a lot more people [supporting it], and I don’t get that sense,” said Cullen.
“The larger conversation in the Gitxsan has yet to happen. A number of chiefs remain dead set against it, so that will be for the Gitxsan to work out.”
Gitxsan hereditary chiefs Larry Marsden and Art Mathews were among the aboriginal leaders who last week said the Eagle Spirit Energy plan was an option worth considering given the risk of transporting oil by train.
Chiefs Marsden and Mathews could not be reached for comment.