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The Haisla Nation, an Indigenous group that opposed plans for the controversial Northern Gateway oil pipeline, has thrown its support behind TransCanada Corp.’s proposed natural gas route in northern British Columbia.

TransCanada said on Thursday that the Haisla became the 20th elected Indigenous group along the planned Coastal GasLink pipeline to sign an agreement of support. The Calgary-based company now has the support of all of the elected Indigenous groups along the route from northeastern B.C. to Kitimat in the northwest part of the province.

The gas-pipeline project is now awaiting a decision from an international group that plans to build a terminal to export liquefied natural gas from the marine port at Kitimat. The LNG Canada project, led by Royal Dutch Shell PLC, is expected to make a final investment decision by the end of 2018 on whether to forge ahead.

The enthusiasm for natural gas among elected First Nations is in sharp contrast to the vocal opposition in British Columbia against proposed oil projects. The now-defunct Northern Gateway project would have carried diluted bitumen from Alberta’s oil sands to a marine terminal in Kitimat, and Kinder Morgan Canada Inc. had planned to nearly triple its Trans Mountain oil pipeline capacity from Edmonton to the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby.

Ottawa recently bought the Trans Mountain line and West Coast terminal, and inherited the pipeline-expansion plans.

The proposed $4.8-billion GasLink line would run 670 kilometres from the Groundbirch area near Dawson Creek to LNG Canada’s site in Kitimat. TransCanada estimates more than 2,000 construction jobs could be created related to Coastal GasLink.

“First Nations in Northern B.C. have a real opportunity to work together to build benefits for each of our communities, which respects Aboriginal rights and title,” Haisla chief councillor Crystal Smith said about the project on Thursday. The Haisla’s traditional home is on the east side of Douglas Channel in Kitamaat Village, located near the community of Kitimat.

TransCanada spokeswoman Jacquelynn Benson said that in addition to the Haisla agreement, "the project has also secured all of the necessary regulatory permits and completed necessary field work over the summer to begin construction, should LNG Canada make a positive final investment decision.”

But Coastal GasLink still faces a regulatory challenge. In July, a prominent B.C. environmentalist applied for a federal review of the planned pipeline. Mike Sawyer argues that Coastal GasLink, approved by the BC Environmental Assessment Office in 2014, should have undergone a federal review by the National Energy Board.

Besides opposition from Mr. Sawyer, protesters at the Unist’ot’en camp in northwest B.C. are also seeking to block Coastal GasLink.

Earlier this month, the mayors of 14 B.C. communities wrote a joint letter to Mr. Sawyer to express their concerns, saying he is overlooking the economic benefits. “Both the proposed LNG Canada export facility and Coastal GasLink pipeline have been subject to very extensive and rigorous assessment and review processes that actively sought public comment,” the mayors wrote.

Karen Ogen-Toews, chief executive officer of the First Nations LNG Alliance, said she is optimistic about plans for LNG Canada, which has budgeted spending up to $40-billion in total, including $4.8-billion for Coastal GasLink. “When the pipeline goes through, it will mean employment and career opportunities for Indigenous people, and long-term revenue for their communities and councils," she said in a statement.

David Keane, president of the BC LNG Alliance, said Thursday’s announcement represents the culmination of years of TransCanada working with band councils.

Shell owns 40 per cent of LNG Canada while Malaysia’s state-owned Petronas now holds a 25-per-cent stake after it recently joined the consortium in a deal first announced in May. The remaining partners are PetroChina (15 per cent), Japan’s Mitsubishi Corp. (15 per cent) and South Korea’s Kogas (5 per cent).

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