Eagle Spirit Energy (ESE) has caught the attention of some northern First Nation Chiefs as an alternative to Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.
At a conference in Calgary on Feb. 11, the oil company received declarations of support from three First Nations including Chief Archie Patrick of the Stellat’en First Nation near Fraser Lake, Chief Dan George of the Ts’il Kaz Koh First Nation (Burns Lake Band) and two Gitxsan Hereditary Chief’s: Larry Marsden, Head Chief on behalf of the Gitsegukla Hereditary Chiefs, and Art Mathews, head chief on behalf of the Gitwangak Hereditary Chiefs.
“They’re planning on turning the bitumen (oil) into a synthetic (lighter) crude that is relatively safer to transport in the pipeline because, if there is a spill, it will float on the water and can be cleaned up rather than [Enbridge’s] bitumen, which can sink and is virtually impossible to clean,” Chief Patrick said in a phone interview.
“If push comes to shove we will support Eagle Spirit rather than Enbridge.”
Besides the difference in product, many First Nation chiefs say the reason for backing ESE is because of how they were approached, along with potential equity in the $14 billion to $16 billion project. First Nations are being promised full partnership in the project, but Chief Patrick still describes his support as conditional.
“We want to make sure the environment is taken care of safely. Enbridge has gone through the environmental assessment and have been given conditions which they are working on and [I expect] will soon go to the government and say they’ve met them. ESE has decided to deal with the native component first and once we’re [fully] on board… then they will have the social licence to go ahead. ESE has also promised us a piece of the action as well as we will own part of the operation as opposed to just giving an ok. Their proposal is that we are partners in any kind of economic venture, they will share information and we will hire our own people [to make sure] the environment is being taken care of.”
Chief Martin Louie of Nadleh Whuten believes it is key for resource companies and the Crown to respect the fact that Yinka Dene (Nadleh Whut’en, Nak’azdli, Takla Lake, Saik’uz, Wet’suwet’en, and Tl’azt’en First Nations) laws are the laws of the land when it comes to projects in their territory.
“We’re not here to stop everything, we’re here to keep the land, water and animals safe for our kids and our kids’ kids. [First Nations] play a huge part in changing environmental laws in Canada but its up to everyone to stand behind this. I try to be sensible, the economy of the world is gas and oil … but it’s got to be done right,” Chief Louie said.
In 2005 the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council (Burns Lake Band, Nad’leh Whuten, Saik’uz First Nation, Stellat’en First Nation, Takla Lake First Nation, Tl’azt’en Nation and Wet’suwet’en First Nation) submitted a proposal to Enbridge which outlined the need to follow aboriginal environmental laws. Enbridge declined the proposal and many First Nations have since opposed the project altogether.
Ivan Giesbrecht, Enbridge communications manager, said the company is continuing it’s discussions with First Nations across the proposed route.
“Northern Gateway’s priority is building further trust, establishing respectful dialogues and creating meaningful partnerships with First Nations and Metis peoples. First Nations and Metis communities should not be limited to benefit from just one project. Each First Nation and Aboriginal community will need to decide for themselves if they wish to participate in one or more energy projects. Northern Gateway is the most advanced proposal for British Columbia. It has already been reviewed – and approved – by the most comprehensive environmental review of it’s kind in Canadian history,” he said.
“No other proposal has reached this stage or begun the multi-year process to get to this point. We believe First Nations and Metis communities should be owners of Northern Gateway, which will result in long-term financial dividends, jobs, economic development opportunities, community development and educational opportunities for Aboriginal Equity Partner communities.”