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Tribal Chief Liz Logan speaks to fellow dignataries at a Treaty 8 First Nations agreement signing at B.C. Legislature in Victoria on Thursday, May 15, 2014. (GEOFF HOWE For The Globe and Mail)
Tribal Chief Liz Logan speaks to fellow dignataries at a Treaty 8 First Nations agreement signing at B.C. Legislature in Victoria on Thursday, May 15, 2014. (GEOFF HOWE For The Globe and Mail)

New forum set up to air LNG concerns Add to ...

B.C. is setting up a new process for First Nations to outline their environmental concerns about the fledgling liquefied natural gas industry to the government and energy companies.

John Rustad, the province’s Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Minister, announced the LNG Environmental Stewardship Initiative on Friday as an international LNG conference wrapped up in Vancouver.

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“You can’t build a positive liquefied natural gas industry in British Columbia unless you make sure that it has a long-lasting legacy for the province, not just financial but also from an environmental perspective,” Mr. Rustad said.

The goal is to provide a forum to discuss ways to ensure LNG projects stay onside with environmental rules. The new process will not affect existing regulatory scrutiny over how proposed energy developments would affect the land, air and water.

Many First Nations leaders have praised the B.C. government for consulting aboriginal communities about the development of LNG on the West Coast. But the Treaty 8 First Nations in northeastern British Columbia want greater scrutiny over hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in which huge amounts of water are mixed with chemicals and pumped into the ground to extract natural gas. Many people have expressed worries about potential water contamination.

Mr. Rustad said the Treaty 8 First Nations have pointed to legitimate issues. “We want to make sure that this is done right, and so we’re happy to engage with them and work with them on their concerns,” he said.

Robert Dennis, the resource development leader for the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, welcomed the creation of the new platform to gain feedback from aboriginals. “If we can work collaboratively, we can make it work,” he said. “We’ll hold their feet to the fire.”

While 14 LNG projects have been proposed, industry analysts caution that no more than four would be viable due to fierce global competition and the massive investments required for drilling, pipelines and export terminals. British Columbia wants to be a player in the world LNG market, but has not yet approved any of the proposals.

Mary Hemmingsen, a partner at consulting firm KPMG Canada, views the formation of the LNG Environmental Stewardship Initiative as an important step.

“To build legitimacy in this LNG industry, there needs to be some common perspectives and some common sources of information for people to make decisions,” Ms. Hemmingsen said. “People can be cynical about this, but I think this is an authentic measure to try to get people engaged, to get the issues on the table, to understand the trade-offs and do it in a transparent way. The pathway to acceptance is to make sure you’ve canvassed the issues and dealt with them in a transparent way.”

Rich Coleman, the province’s Natural Gas Development Minister, said this year’s LNG conference sold out, with 1,400 delegates, a sharp rise from fewer than 560 for the inaugural event in 2013.

“It’s a reality that they’re here because they know that we’re in the game,” he said after the conference.

In his closing remarks, Mr. Coleman acknowledged Russia’s massive deal earlier this week to build a pipeline to supply natural gas to China. But he maintained an upbeat tone on British Columbia’s prospects and strong LNG demand in Asia, notably China. “We beat the Russians at hockey and we’ll beat them at liquefied natural gas,” he said.

Next year’s LNG conference will be Oct. 14 to 16.

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