Northwestern B.C. First Nation group expected to block gas pipeline crews

Coastal GasLink says it needs access to continue environmental field work for pipeline to liquefied natural gas project at Kitimat

  • Thu Aug 27th, 2015 12:00pm
  • News

THE Unist'it'en clan of the Wet'suwet'en in northwestern B.C. are blocking attempts by pipeline companies to survey routes through their traditional territory.

THE head of a pipeline company expects a First Nations group will block its crews from doing crucial fieldwork later this month along a section of a planned natural gas pipeline near Houston.

And should that happen, says Rick Gateman, the president of TransCanada subsidiary Coastal GasLink, the company will file a report with the RCMP in the expectation it’ll then take action.

Gateman said Coastal GasLink, which is planning a 560km pipeline from northeastern B.C. to the Shell-lead LNG Canada project at Kitimat, would rather avoid taking that step.

“This is the type of confrontation they’ve been looking for,” said Gateman of the Wet’suwet’en group known as the Unist’ot’en which also goes by the title Dark House.

“There are legal remedies, but no one wants to go there.”

But after several years of failed attempts to speak with the Unist’ot’en, Gateman says Coastal GasLink needs to get on the ground within the territory claimed by the group.

“They just keep saying ‘no pipeline,’” said Gateman in adding that CoastalGas Link has tried to contact the Unist’ot’en approximately 90 times in the past two years.

“Consultation is supposed to be a two-way street. You can’t refuse to consult but that’s what they’ve been doing,” he added.

And with Coastal GasLink establishing a deadline of early next year to be finished all of its preparatory work so it can be ready to start construction based on a final investment decision being made by LNG Canada, the company needs to complete a section of its environmental work by examining late blooming plants, Gateman said.

The company has been consistently blocked by the Unist’ot’en in the past, said Gateman.

The group, which Gateman describes as one or two families, has set up a blockade on a bridge crossing the Morice River near Houston and has established a camp in the same location.

“But it’s not just the Unist’ot’en,” said Gateman of camp occupants. “Our crews have seen vehicles there with licence plates from Washington State, California, Colorado.”

That’s lead to situations where American citizens have been telling Wet’suwet’en workers hired by Coastal GasLink to get off their own territory, said Gateman.

Coastal GasLink’s first route through Dark House territory was south of the Morice River.

But the route was then moved north of the river, primarily in response to Wet’suwet’en requests not to have the pipeline close to a series of streams flowing into the river.

That’s actually worked out better, said Gateman, because the route is now further away from the river and in an area where there’s been logging and a series of roads constructed.

Yet the Unist’ot’en have now set up a satellite camp north of the river along Coastal GasLink’s new route and have erected a blockade.

Coastal GasLink’s route runs through approximately 55 kilometres of Unist’ot’en territory, roughly 10 per cent of the entire pipeline route.

Gateman said Coastal GasLink has good relations with more than 20 other First Nations along the route.

For six of those First Nations, that’s resulted in long term project agreements and Gateman’s optimistic of signing similar agreements with the others.