Skeena – Bulkley Valley NDP MP Nathan Cullen is wondering why Coastal GasLink doesn’t reroute a section of its natural gas pipeline to avoid the Wet’suwet’en house group opposing its construction.
“It strikes me that if you have two neighbours, one who agrees with you and the other who doesn’t, you’d want to take that into consideration,” said Cullen of Wet’suwet’en house group Unist’ot’en’s entrenched opposition to the pipeline crossing its asserted territory on the way to the LNG Canada liquefied natural gas plant at Kitimat.
The territory is south of Houston where the Unist’ot’en erected a camp followed by a building nearly a decade ago. The hereditary chiefs’ Office of the Wet’suwet’en has consistently asserted rights and title to their territory.
A checkpoint also blocked Coastal GasLink crews from detailed surveying of the route and other fieldwork through Unist’ot’en territory, leading arrests in early January after the company obtained a Supreme Court of B.C. injunction.
Compared to the Unist’ot’en and the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, Cullen said there are other First Nations who do favour the pipeline project.
“I’m not an engineer, and I don’t build pipelines, but I’d think there are many routes to the coast,” Cullen said.
“My question is — is this impossible?” Cullen continued of the idea of a route diversion. “I’ve never been told that an alternate route is more expensive. And there are other costs, legal and political costs to consider.”
Cullen said he’s brought up the idea of a route diversion with senior Coastal GasLink officials, drawing a muted reaction.
“I can appreciate not wanting to be public about an alternate route, but if there is one territory that’s completely dug in, can you just do a workaround?”
The MP noted that Coastal GasLink considered different routes in its extensive application to the provincial government’s Environmental Assessment Office for permission to construct the pipeline.
“I know that some of these may be lines on a map but it looks to me there are a lot of ways to get to the coast,” Cullen continued.
He also pointed to a route diversion Coastal GasLink did undertake after it received overall project approval in 2014 from the Environmental Assessment Office, signalling that it can find options.
After First Nations told GasLink a section of the original route south of Burns Lake and reaching toward Houston passed through land on which there was traditional use, the company applied to the assessment office for a route amendment.
Called the South of Houston Alternate Route (SHAR), this new section dipped south of the original route for approximately 4 kilometres and runs approximately 42 kilometres westward before connecting with the original route again.
The company said SHAR would avoid “culturally sensitive areas” raised by First Nations and after approximately two years of study, assessment and contact with affected First Nations, it was approved in 2018.
Information from Coastal GasLink indicates SHAR has not materially added to the approximate 670-kilometre length of its original route plan. No information was available as to the cost of the diversion. As it is, Coastal GasLink’s original budget of $4.8 billion crafted more than five years ago has now increased to $6.2 billion.
Coastal GasLink declined to comment on any discussions its officials may have had with Cullen or if they have ever spoken to him.
“We did not confirm or deny. Coastal GasLink regularly meets with various stakeholders, including elected officials, to provide updates on our projects and operations. We value these opportunities to engage,” the company said in a provided statement.
“We firmly believe we have selected the best route possible for this project, the route is fully permitted and preliminary construction has commenced.”