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Energy and Resources First Nations group offers to buy stake in Coastal GasLink pipeline

A newly formed group representing 20 elected First Nation councils will present an offer on Tuesday to buy a 22.5-per-cent stake in TransCanada Corp.'s Coastal GasLink pipeline project in British Columbia.

First Nation Leadership Group (FNLG) said having elected band councils serve as co-owners of Coastal GasLink would strengthen the $6.2-billion project, which is designed to transport natural gas from northeast B.C. to the planned LNG Canada terminal in Kitimat on the West Coast.

Coastal GasLink, also known as CGL, began clearing land earlier this year to make room for work camps along the 670-kilometre route.

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“This proposal will not inhibit CGL’s ability to raise capital for the initial phases of project activities in 2019, and provides a genuine opportunity for the FNLG to explore mutually beneficial partnership and investment opportunities with CGL,” according to a letter sent by the Indigenous group to TransCanada.

CGL said in a statement on Monday that pipeline officials “are aware and pleased to see First Nations interest in investing in the project,” but cautioned that “it’s early in the process and we are exploring all our options in securing project financing.”

Members of FNLG, including Haisla Nation elected chief councillor Crystal Smith, will meet with CGL officials on Tuesday in Vancouver to discuss the proposed investment in the pipeline project. Dan George, chairman of the First Nations LNG Alliance and elected Burns Lake band chief, will also be among the Indigenous leaders attending the meeting.

Ms. Smith has been a vocal supporter of LNG Canada and the pipeline. Last week, the Haisla Nation played host to a conference and trade show in Kitimat to promote the economic spin-offs from LNG Canada, with Ms. Smith among the speakers touting exports of liquefied natural gas.

Elected chiefs backing FNLG said a series of negotiations will be required to work out details, and have asked TransCanada to allow Indigenous leaders until Oct. 30 to sort through financing arrangements, assuming the two sides agree to have 22.5 per cent allotted.

TransCanada has hired RBC Dominion Securities to manage the sale of up to 75 per cent of CGL.

FNLG said it is seeking “30 per cent of the proposed offering,” or the equivalent of 22.5 per cent of the total CGL equity. The proportion set aside for FNLG will be reduced if TransCanada decides to decrease the size of its planned equity sale.

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While CGL has been approved by all 20 elected First Nation councils along the route, the B.C. project has been the target of protests led by a group of eight Wet’suwet’en Nation hereditary chiefs. A blockade supported by hereditary chiefs and environmental protesters came down on Jan. 11, allowing pipeline workers to gain access to a portion of the route in the B.C. Interior.

Five of the 20 elected band councils that support CGL belong to the Wet’suwet’en Nation: Wet’suwet’en First Nation (formerly known as the Broman Lake Indian Band), Burns Lake, Nee Tahi Buhn, Skin Tyee and Witset.

David Pfeiffer, who became CGL president in February, met with elected First Nation leaders in Vancouver last month at a preliminary gathering to open talks on Indigenous investment.

CGL told the National Energy Board in January that the pipeline project is in the hunt for co-owners.

The line is designed to carry natural gas to the Royal Dutch Shell-led LNG Canada export terminal in Kitimat. LNG Canada decided in October to forge ahead with construction of its $18-billion terminal.

On Monday, the Shell-led consortium announced that Peter Zebedee will oversee the five-year construction phase as LNG Canada’s new chief executive officer, effective July 1. Mr. Zebedee is general manager of Shell’s Scotford oil refinery near Edmonton. The current CEO, Andy Calitz, is slated to transfer to Shell’s headquarters in The Hague.

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Robert Metcs, a consultant retained by elected Indigenous leaders, said CGL will benefit from having LNG Canada as the delivery point for natural gas within Canada, before ships transport LNG to Asian markets.

“There will be a long-term contractual relationship between CGL and LNG Canada that will underpin construction of the pipeline,” he said in an internal report prepared to help guide First Nations.

Mr. Metcs said First Nations have access to tax exemptions under the Income Tax Act, and under a limited partnership, “an equity investment by First Nations can be commercially attractive to CGL.”

He added that while governments would likely be asked to contribute with low-interest loans to aid with financing, “an equity investment structured around the Income Tax Act exemption held by First Nations can potentially provide the lowest-cost capital option to CGL.”

FNLG’s interest in the natural gas route comes as other Indigenous leaders seek to buy a stake in the Trans Mountain oil pipeline project.

A group called Project Reconciliation is organizing a bid to buy 51 per cent of the federal government’s Trans Mountain project. Last year, Ottawa bought the oil line and West Coast terminal from Kinder Morgan Canada Inc. as well as the pipeline expansion plans.

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