Describing their opposition to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project as an unbreakable wall, native leaders say they will physically block the project if regulators allow it to proceed.
“I am going to stand in front of bulldozers to stop this project, and I expect my neighbours to join me,” Jackie Thomas, chief of the Saik’uz First Nation, part of the Yinka Dene Alliance, said on Thursday when asked what will happen if regulators approve the proposed pipeline.
Ms. Thomas and other native leaders spoke at a Vancouver press conference to announce the signing of a declaration opposing the $5.5-billion project, a twinned-pipeline system that would ship oil from Alberta to Kitimat, B.C., and condensate from Kitimat to Alberta.
However, Enbridge Gateway spokesman Paul Stanway said native opposition to the project is “by no means unanimous,” and that some first nations are considering equity participation in the pipeline.
“There are a number of first nations in B.C. and Alberta that are actively pursuing that opportunity and we would expect to have announcements in coming days and weeks about that,” Mr. Stanway said in an interview. Enbridge has agreed to provide up to a 10-per-cent stake in the project to first nations interests that help finance it.
In an e-mail, he also cited $1-billion worth of potential economic benefits to native communities along the route and challenged the “Save the Fraser” theme that native bands have adopted to fight the project, saying “while the Northern Gateway Project traverses three Fraser River tributaries, our right-of-way does not directly cross the Fraser River itself.”
Thursday’s declaration by native groups marked the anniversary of a ‘Save the Fraser’ declaration launched in 2010 that organizers say has now been signed by more than 60 first nations. The more than 130 bands in Western Canada that oppose the project “form an unbroken wall of opposition from the U.S. border to the Arctic Ocean,” a statement from the organizers said.
Standing on a chair that gave her enough height to reach the microphone, 10-year-old Ta’Kaiya Blaney of the Sliammon First Nation said the Gateway project would put rivers at risk and denounced it as a “pipe dream” that should not proceed.
The event also expanded native pipeline opposition from Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project to other pipeline and tanker plans, including Kinder Morgan’s plan to boost the capacity of its Trans Mountain pipeline, which ends at a terminal at Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet.
The Tsleil-Waututh Nation, based in North Vancouver, said in October that it will oppose a Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and underlined that position on Thursday.
“Any expansion [of the Trans Mountain pipeline]is unacceptable,” said Tsleil-Waututh spokesman Rueben George.
Any expansion would involve a thorough consultation and review, a Kinder Morgan spokesman said in an e-mail.
“We respect first nations territories and we have always and will continue to extend an open invitation to first nations along our pipeline and near our facilities to meet with us when and if our expansion plans move forward,” spokesman Andrew Galarnyk said.
Although the Thursday announcement referred to a “ban” on oil tankers and pipelines in their territories on both the north and south coasts of the province, oil tankers routinely move through B.C. waters.
The Trans Mountain pipeline began operating in 1953 and Port Metro Vancouver has been “safely and successfully” handling oil tanker traffic since that time, Peter Xotta, the port’s vice-president of planning and operations, said on Thursday.
Last year, 71 crude oil tankers passed through the port.
In Ottawa, a spokeswoman for Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said the Enbridge project is before a joint review panel, “the highest level of scrutiny possible.”
“All interested groups, including aboriginal groups, are free to express their concerns,” Patricia Best said. “It is a strategic objective of this government to diversify our energy exports; however, all regulatory processes will be followed before any final decision is made.”
In the United States, Native American tribal leaders are asking President Barack Obama to reject a permit for a proposed oil pipeline from Canada to refineries in Texas.
The pipeline opponents plan to make their plea when leaders of the nation’s 565 American Indian tribes meet with Mr. Obama on Friday in Washington. The administration has delayed the pipeline project until 2013.
With reports from Shawn McCarthy in Ottawa and Associated Press