By Lee White
Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) is big news in B.C. Premier Christy Clark pretty much brought every media question in the recent election campaign somehow back to LNG as a purported solution to B.C.’s high rates of child poverty, the need for jobs, and, of course, the economy.
And while scepticism across the political spectrum in the province greeted Clark’s LNG projections, oil and gas companies and, most crucially, First Nations communities in B.C. are still showing an active interest in prospective LNG projects.
The impacts of the LNG projects have both “upstream” impacts – pipelines and the extraction of natural gas by hydraulic fracturing, known as “fracking” – and “downstream” considerations – tankers – that will require effective engagement with First Nations. “Fracking,” especially, is widely opposed by both the general public and First Nations within B.C.
Make no mistake about it: the success of bringing LNG to market is largely in the hands of aboriginal communities.
Legal precedent from the Supreme Court of Canada has defined the need for meaningful consultation and engagement with First Nations for resource projects on their traditional territory.
And while aboriginal groups, such as the Yinka Dene Alliance, which represents Nadleh Whut’en, Nak’azdli, Takla Lake, Saik’uz, Wet’suwet’en, and Tl’azt’en First Nations, have made their opposition to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline clear, these same communities have not made the same definitive statement when it comes to natural gas pipelines and LNG.
“If companies engage from an Indigenous values perspective, then there are possibilities for partnerships for LNG,” according to Wayne Drury of Lax Kw’alaams First Nation central to prospective LNG plants in the northwest. Drury made reference to a report on the possible positive and negative impacts of a LNG plant in Timor-Leste to process gas from the offshore Greater Sunrise field for export (Sunrise LNG in Timor-Leste: Dreams, Realities and Challenges by La’o Hamutuk) to illustrate a key point relevant to LNG development.
“The [LNG] facility could become an enclave, physically situated on the coast of Timor-Leste, but with few or no jobs for Timorese citizens, no money going into the local community, and indeed no integration at all with the rest of society – neither economically, socially or in terms of infrastructure such as road connections. In short, it could be ‘in’ Timor-Leste, but not ‘for’ Timor-Leste.
“The worst case scenario is a plant that displaces the local population, impinges on their sacred places and harms the natural environment, and is staffed by foreigners who live in self-contained living quarters near the plant, without any positive interaction with the rest of the country.
“It is easy to see that this would cause deep grievances and frustrations in a population that is already struggling with poverty and a history of colonialism and violence.”
The litmus for oil and gas companies looking to develop LNG projects in B.C. comes down to how effectively they engage and ultimately partner with First Nations to create prosperity that goes beyond the lifecycle of a project. LNG projects will have to be developed “for B.C.” and, more specifically, for the aboriginal communities that are directly impacted.
The success of the various proposed projects depends on how effectively oil and gas companies engage and partner with Aboriginal stakeholders. Will it be LNG in B.C. or LNG for B.C. and the First Nations?
Proper and appropriate consultation and accommodation with First Nations will go a long way to making the projects for B.C., and for the First Nations directly involved.
Lee White is a Senior Advisor with GMG Consulting (Good Medicine Group), which works with Aboriginal communities and organizations, as well as government and resource-based industries, to support Aboriginal self-determination. Its clients in northern BC have included the Tahltan.