Several B.C. Indian bands have rejected Enbridge offer of a stake in its controversial Northern Gateway pipeline, throwing new hurdles before the project that would ship oil sands bitumen to Pacific Rim markets.
Calgary-based Enbridge is currently in regulatory hearings seeking approval for the $5.5-billion project. It insists it is discussing benefits packages, including a 10-per-cent equity stake, with the native communities whose traditional territory will be traversed by the pipeline.
On Thursday, several chiefs publicly rejected Enbridge's offer of a financial stake in the Gateway development, and instead delivered a declaration opposing the pipeline - signed by representatives of 61 British Columbia native groups - to Enbridge's Calgary headquarters.
"Our lands and waters are not for sale, not at any price," said Chief Larry Nooski of Nadleh Whut'en First Nation.
"We want no part of Enbridge's project and their offers are worthless to us when compared to the importance of keeping our lands, rivers and the coast free of crude oil spills. What Enbridge is offering is the destruction of our lands to build their project, and the risk of oil spills for decades to come which could hurt everyone's kids and grandkids."
In an interview, Mr. Nooski said the Gateway project would cross 48 kilometres of Nooski traditional territory, which remains subject to unsettled land claims. He said he has not had direct contact from Enbridge offering an equity stake but read about the plan in the media.
Opposition from B.C. Indian bands looms as a major roadblock for Enbridge and its partners, who want to build a 515,000-barrel-per-day pipeline to deliver bitumen to booming Asian markets.
At a news conference in Edmonton, ministers from the three Western provinces announced a partnership to expand access for resource industries to West Coast ports.
"We now have three provinces that, when working together, we swing an awful lot of economic clout," Alberta Energy Minister Ron Liepert said.
He said the agreement would help open up world markets to his province, which sells nearly all its energy to the United States.
"I think we ultimately see, from an Alberta standpoint, that we're going to need all of the markets," he said.
Enbridge spokeswoman Gina Jordan said it is premature for the group to reject an offer that has not been presented to them.
"We are currently meeting with First nations to discuss our equity offering and we are very pleased that a number of First nations have executed commercial agreements in the past month,," Ms. Jordan said, adding that confidentiality requirements prevent her from naming the bands that have concluded deals.
"Northern Gateway wants to ensure maximum participation of aboriginal communities in meaningful economic opportunities that arise from the project, including equity ownership, directed procurement, employment and sole sourcing," she said.
Geraldine Thomas-Flurer works as co-ordinator for the Yinka Dene Alliance, which represents five bands, in their dealings with Enbridge. She said Enbridge is misrepresenting the protocol agreements that it has signed with 30 bands along the pipeline right-of-way, saying they do not indicate support, but merely allow for discussion.
Ms. Thomas-Flurer also dismissed the regulatory hearing by the National Energy Board and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. Native groups and environmentalists have complained the review has too narrow a scope and won't take into account the increased emissions that would result from greater oil sands production, or the long-term concerns of Indian communities.
In a report released on Thursday, the Calgary-based Pembina Institute said Enbridge has left some critical questions unanswered in its submission to the Joint Review Panel, including whether the pipeline is even needed.
It argues that, if both the Northern Gateway and TransCanada's Keystone XL pipelines are built by 2016, there would be excess pipeline capacity of two million barrels a day in the export pipeline system. In fact, Enbridge had opposed TransCanada's XL project, saying the additional capacity is not needed.
"If the Joint Review Panel proceeds with considering this project despite the uncertainties and lack of information provided by Enbridge, it will establish a new precedent that stands to erode the integrity and accountability of the regulatory review process," Pembina analyst Nathan Lemphers said.
With files from reporter Josh Wingrove in Edmonton