Indigenous groups concerned about LNG pipeline project

SFU associate professor, Jonathan Moore, weighs in on the pipeline project threatening natural resources essential to First Nations

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By: Manon Busseron

The federal cabinet has approved an $11.4 billion pipeline project that would transport natural gas over 900 km from northern British Columbia to the Prince Rupert area. The Pacific Northwest LNG project is backed by the giant Malaysian company Petronas.

Environmentalists and First Nations have expressed their concern regarding the environmental damages that could be caused by the pipeline. Indeed, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency concluded that the project would provoke a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to climate change. The terminal could also threaten wildlife, especially harbour porpoises and the salmon in the Skeena river estuary.

Pacific NorthWest LNG responded that the pipeline and terminal would reduce greenhouse emissions from Asian coal-fired plants. Moreover, the project’s approval has been submitted to an array of 190 conditions meant to reduce its environmental consequences, including a cap on greenhouse gas emissions that would cut them to “4.3 millions tonnes per year, 900,000 tonnes less than what had initially been proposed by the proponent”, according to The Globe and Mail.

Environmentalists argue that despite this measure, the project is inconsistent with Canada’s climate commitments.

First Nations and experts warn that the terminal would likely harm the salmon population. Jonathan Moore, associate professor at Simon Fraser University’s School of Resource and Environmental Management and department of biological sciences, and his graduate students conducted collaborative research with First Nations’ fisheries programs.

In an email to The Peak, Moore described their findings. They found out that the area affected by the terminal “is particularly important to young salmon. [. . .] We also know from previous research that salmon populations generally have much lower survival when estuaries have more industrial development. Thus, we know that salmon are sensitive to industrial development in estuaries and we know that Pacific NorthWest LNG is proposed for a particularly risky location”.

Many aboriginal leaders have said that they were not consulted and that their concerns have been ignored by the company, although the latter said that it has consulted with five Tsimshian First Nations since 2012 regarding the project. Tensions have emerged among First Nations since some have signed agreements with the company to benefit from the pipeline, whereas others, such as the Gitanyow, are still opposed to the project, and claim that they have not been consulted by the BC government.

Other First Nations have expressed concern about the salmon population, on which they have relied “heavily for thousands of years,” stated Moore, based on previous archeological study. In addition to harming the species, First Nations claim that the project also ignores their fishing rights on their traditional lands.

Given the impasse, First Nations have launched four challenges so far before the Federal Court, accusing the government of ignoring their demands by approving the project without their agreement.

According to some aboriginal leaders, this case illustrates the damaged relations between First Nations and the Canadian government. In an article from Desmog Canada, Glen Williams, Chief and negotiator for the Gitanyow, declared that “Justin Trudeau promised a new relationship with Indigenous communities.

“Instead, he added insult to injury by ignoring us, and giving the green light to a project that will destroy our way of life.”