First Nations chief, enviro critic react to new oil pipeline proposal

Don Roberts says better consultation is needed with the Tsimshian as a collective, while Greg Knox calls pipelines risky

A series of oil refineries located outside of Edmonton

Kitsumkalum chief councillor Don Roberts says he is unhappy with the way Pacific Energy Futures has gone about introducing a plan to build a $15 billion oil refinery between Terrace, B.C. and Kitimat to pump oil north to Portland Inlet across the Skeena River.

He says the company went public with the plan before he had a chance to respond to the project description.

“We are annoyed at having our name as a consultation band,” said Roberts. “Kitsumkalum is not in support of raw bitumen moving by pipeline or train, or something of that nature.”

He added that he received the project description not long ago and feels it was a short period in which to respond.

According to Pacific Energy Futures spokesperson Don MacLachlan, the company also submitted the project description to the BC Environmental Assessment Office last week.

Leader of another local First Nation listed in the project agreement, chief councillor Joe Bevan of the Kitselas, said the company had been in touch with him about the project several times over the previous year and that it would take at least another year for his environmental and lands team to decide if it is in the band’s best interest to support the project.

As for Roberts, he said “I don’t want to go there” when asked about the pipes that would have to cross the Skeena through Kitsumkalum territory to the proposed shipping terminal northeast of New Aiyansh/Gitlaxt’aamiks.

He said he feels the Kitsumkalum are “stuck in the middle”, and finds the typical way project proponents deal with First Nations—speaking to them individually and offering money to one but perhaps not another—is what he calls the “divide and conquer” strategy.

“My views here is it involves everyone in the Tsimshian Nation,” he said.

Over at SkeenaWild, a local salmon and wildlife conservation group, director Greg Knox says the notion of one or more pipelines carrying refined oil in gas and diesel form across the Skeena River, as well as the atmospheric disturbances in the Kitimat valley caused by a colossal oil refinery, are quite a worry, but that he doubts coastal refinery projects make sense economically at this point.

Knox said that while it is true that refined products such as gas and diesel evaporate rather than sink like raw bitumen in the case of a leak, spilled gas would mix in the turbulence of the water column and is lethal to young salmon.

“Materials are still toxic to fish, even though they are refined,” said Knox. “Because the turbulence in the water is mixed, some of the materials will evaporate relatively quickly but have an immediate impact.”

From his admittedly non-expert analysis of oil markets, he said that advocating against a proposal such as Pacific Energy Futures is not a priority for SkeenaWild.

“All of the economic analysts are predicting that the low oil price is here to stay for a long time, and we just saw sanctions being lifted with Iran, therefore it makes it easier for Iran to add to world production now,” he said of the current oil glut.

“Its one of the challenges,” he continued. “There are so many energy, natural gas and oil proposals out there, that we try to figure out which ones are most likely to proceed and which ones bring the biggest threats, and we put our energy there.”

Knox said one focus right now is organizing the Salmon Nation conference happening in Prince Rupert this Friday and Saturday, that is drawing attention to the risk that the Pacific Northwest LNG project poses to Skeena salmon stocks.