AS many as three coastal First Nations could sign on for a share of the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project in the coming months, says an aboriginal leader closely identified with the project.
They will join 28 First Nations and Metis groups who have already negotiated deals for their portions of the 10 per cent of the project set aside for aboriginal ownership, says Bruce Dumont, the president of the Metis Nation of B.C.
Dumont, along with three other aboriginal leaders, are referred to as stewards representing those who have become aboriginal equity partners in the project.
Those aboriginal partners are First Nations and others with land interests along the planned Northern Gateway pipeline route which spans 1,170 kilometres from Bruderheim, Alberta to Kitimat.
Should it be built, there will be two pipelines running parallel to each other –– one to carry crude from Alberta to a marine export terminal at Kitimat and a second to import an oil-thinning agent known as condensate which then makes it easier to pump crude through pipelines.
“Those agreements have been underway for quite awhile,” said Dumont of the three pending deals with coastal First Nations.
“I can tell you there is support and there is more support to come,” Dumont added of the Northern Gateway project.
Those First Nations who are partners in Northern Gateway went through what he called a “learning process” to better understand how the pipeline will be built, what its economic and other benefits will be and what environmental protection measures will be in place.
Dumont said the 10 per cent aboriginal ownership stake of the Northern Gateway project, now estimated to cost in excess of $8 billion, provides First Nations and Metis with needed business and employment opportunities and a say in how it is developed.
“What we are, are owners. We speak as owners of the pipeline,” added Dumont indicating the 10 per cent aboriginal stake works out to $800 million in equity.
That $800 million figure, Dumont continued, represents a big step forward for aboriginal groups eager to build economic self-reliance.
The money for the groups to take up the 10 per cent aboriginal stake in the project will be borrowed from the same financiers who will back Enbridge itself and be repaid from the groups’ share of pipeline use revenues.
Whether those three coastal First Nations will be identified when they sign their ownership deals is up to them, said Dumont.
“There is a clause that keeps it confidential but it is a decision they can make,” he said.
The 28 already-signed agreements represent more than half of the 45 groups eligible for an ownership stake.
To date the only First Nations and Metis groups to disclose they have signed ownership agreements are those of the four stewards.
In addition to Dumont from the Metis Nation of B.C. that list takes in Gitxsan hereditary chiefs through the Gitxsan Treaty Society as represented by Elmer Derrick, a Terrace resident, Elmer Ghostkeeper of the Buffalo Lake Metis Settlement in Alberta and David MacPhee of the Aseniwuche Winewak Nation, also in Alberta.
Derrick’s signing of the Gitxsan agreement in 2011 resulted in large-scale opposition within the Gitxsan communities in the Hazeltons and a six-month blockade of the treaty office.
Dumont said that the aboriginal equity group is close to opening an office in Terrace to better explain the group’s purpose.
First announced more than a decade ago, the planned Northern Gateway project quickly became a focal point of First Nations, environmental groups and northern local government opposition.
There are worries over its environmental impacts, particularly should there be either a spill from the pipeline or a tanker accident in coastal waters.
The project does have federal environmental approval pending it meets 209 conditions but the provincial government remains opposed, saying it has so far failed in five key areas including economic benefits to B.C. and what it terms “world-class” response plans in case of land and marine oil spills.
As well, the new federal Liberal government has said it will follow through on an election promise last year to ban crude oil tankers from B.C.’s north coast.
What shape that will take is still unknown although federal transport minister Marc Garneau was in Prince Rupert recently to speak with First Nations and others.
Last month the B.C. Supreme Court also ruled the provincial government failed in its obligations to coastal First Nations when it agreed the federal government should hold a single project review.