A small B.C. first nation is making a personal plea to a series of Alberta energy companies as well as China and other governments in hopes of derailing an Enbridge Inc. pipeline that would export oil-sands crude to Asia.
The campaign is a preview of a storm brewing between first nations and the backers of the Northern Gateway pipeline project. The 1,170-kilometre project would bring crude from Alberta to the northern B.C. coast, where it would be loaded onto very large crude carriers for transport to Asian refiners.
The project offers oil-sands producers an appealing alternative market to the United States, where climate change legislation has brought some uncertainty. It has, as a result, gained support from a broad swath of industry and government leaders.
But on some of the pristine, salmon-rich lands Gateway would cross - safely, Enbridge says - first nations are voicing growing concerns that the line will damage the environment and leave little in return.
One of those nations, the Wet'suwet'en, took to Calgary yesterday in hopes of persuading energy companies to boycott the project. About 140 km of Gateway would be built on Wet'suwet'en traditional territory, and the group believes the environmental approval process for the pipeline will infringe on their constitutional rights, since it does not include a mandate to look into aboriginal rights and title.
To make their case yesterday, they hand-delivered letters to Shell Canada Ltd., Royal Dutch Shell, Husky Energy, Suncor Energy Inc., Chevron, Imperial Oil Ltd., Ivanhoe Energy, Korea National Oil Corporation and China National Petroleum Corporation. The group has met with the U.S. and Chinese consulates in Calgary, and also plans to outline its concerns to South Korean representatives.
"We want to let these shippers know their support for the Enbridge project will also be supporting infringement on the Wet'suwet'en Nation," said David deWit, the group's natural resources manager.
A spokeswoman with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency said the review process "has proven over time to be an effective means" to consider environmental and social impacts. The panel's findings will be used by the government "to fulfill its legal duty to consult and, where appropriate, accommodate."
The Wet'suwet'en opposition comes as support rallies around Gateway which, along with a separate West Coast oil pipeline being pushed by Kinder Morgan Canada, is seen as a potentially critical link to foreign crude buyers.
A group of Alberta oil producers and Asian refiners has already handed Enbridge $100-million to develop the project, and on Thursday, newly-installed Energy Minister Ron Liepert said he intends to more aggressively look "at international markets for our oil and gas products."
"We have been too reliant on the U.S.," Mr. Liepert said in an interview.
Gateway will cross the land of 50 first nations. Thirty have signed "protocol agreements" that allow discussions with Enbridge and provide funding for local traditional knowledge studies. Enbridge has not yet, however, signed a single access and benefit agreement with native groups.
Mr. deWit estimates that salmon in northwestern B.C. are worth $100-million a year.