A group of Alberta First Nations and Métis communities is planning to bid for a stake in the Trans Mountain oil pipeline, adding to a list of Indigenous would-be backers of contentious energy projects.
Iron Coalition, co-led by Chief Tony Alexis of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation, will roll out details on Wednesday of a planned offer for the pipeline that runs to the West Coast from Alberta, owned by the federal government, and its proposed multibillion-dollar expansion, said a person familiar with the arrangements who was not authorized to speak publicly.
Iron Coalition plans to offer all First Nations and Métis communities in Alberta equal ownership stakes, according to its new social media account.
The group faces likely competition from other Indigenous-led hopefuls, including Project Reconciliation, which detailed plans in March to buy a 51-per-cent interest in Trans Mountain and fund its share of the project by issuing debt backed by shipping contracts paid by oil companies. Project Reconciliation is looking to bring as many as 200 First Nations and Métis communities in Western Canada together to back its bid for the pipeline and the expansion – an investment of $6.9-billion.
Iron Coalition’s financing plans, and the proportion of ownership it is seeking, were not immediately known. Mr. Alexis is expected to discuss aspects of the plan after an announcement in Edmonton on Wednesday. If it is similar in magnitude to what Project Reconciliation is planning, it would be an unprecedented financing amount.
But there is a recent guide – Alberta’s Mikisew Cree and the Fort McKay First Nation bought 49 per cent of a Suncor Energy Inc. oil sands storage-tank farm for $503-million. It was financed through a high-yield bond issued to more than a dozen investors and was backed by a 25-year service agreement with Suncor.
The Trans Mountain expansion, seen by the oil industry as key to opening up badly needed new export markets, has been delayed by court challenges launched by First Nations and others concerned about its environmental impact. Ottawa, which bought the line for $4.5-billion, is expected to approve the plan to triple the line’s capacity to 890,000 barrels a day on June 18 after the Federal Court of Appeal quashed its initial clearance last year. An approval would almost certainly be challenged in court.
A key question for Indigenous bidders is when they will be able to make formal offers. Finance Minister Bill Morneau has said the timing and details of the sale of the pipeline depend on when it is “de-risked,” but he has not indicated which conditions would be necessary to achieve that. In March, the CBC reported Mr. Alexis, whose community is about 85 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, met with Mr. Morneau for what were described as preliminary talks rather than a negotiation.
Other leaders of Iron Coalition include Chief Calvin Bruneau of the Papaschase First Nation and Ron Quintal, president of the Fort McKay Métis.
Trans Mountain is not the only energy infrastructure project attracting interest from Indigenous groups. First Nation Leadership Group, a coalition representing 20 elected First Nations councils, has offered to buy a 22.5-per-cent stake in TC Energy Corp.'s Coastal GasLink pipeline project in British Columbia.