Members of a first nation in northern British Columbia have evicted surveyors working on a natural gas pipeline project from their territory, seized equipment and set up a roadblock against all pipeline activity.
A group identifying itself as the Unis'tot'en clan of the Wet'suwet'en Nation said surveyors for Apache Canada's Pacific Trails Pipeline were trespassing.
"The Unis'tot'en clan has been dead-set against all pipelines slated to cross through their territories, which include PTP (Pacific Trails Pipeline), Enbridge's Northern Gateway and many others," Freda Huson, a spokesperson for the group, said in a statement.
"As a result of the unsanctioned PTP work in the Unist'ot'en yintah, the road leading into the territory has been closed to all industry activities until further notice."
Ms. Huson was not available for further comment.
But according to a statement issued by the group Wednesday night, the surveyors were denied access to the territory Wednesday morning at a bridge crossing the Morice River, which runs through the Skeena region.
The group said once the surveyors were turned back, members retrieved materials that had been left behind Tuesday.
That equipment will be held until the company agrees to open up "appropriate lines of communication," said the group.
Company spokesman Paul Wyke confirmed that surveyors were asked to leave the area.
"We had some surveyors in the area last evening and they were asked to leave traditional territory by a small group of members from the Unis'tot'en, and they complied," Mr. Wyke said.
"We understand that there are some members of the Unis'tot'en that have expressed some concerns with the proposed PTP project, and we continue to consult with first nations along the entire proposed pipeline right-of-way."
Mr. Wyke said the company will continue ongoing consultations with aboriginal groups. The project has the support of 15 of 16 aboriginal groups along the route, he said.
The blockading group said the province does not have the right to approve development on their traditional lands, which lie northwest of Kitimat, the future home of an Apache Canada liquefied natural gas plant and the tanker port for the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.
Officials with the Wet'suwet'en, a first nation comprised of five clans – none of which is identified as the Unis'tot'en on their official website – did not return calls seeking comment.
The Wet'suwet'en have issued statements opposing the pipeline but discussions continue with the company.
British Columbia has become a battleground between oil and gas development and the rights of first nations.
Many aboriginal groups whose traditional territories stand between the booming Alberta oil sands and ports that could take their product to Asia view court-recognized rights as a trump card to development projects.
The proposed Northern Gateway project, which would deliver diluted bitumen from the Alberta oil sands to a tanker port in Kitimat, has taken the brunt of opposition, but critics of oil sands development and tanker activity off the B.C. coast are widening the scope of their dissent.
A proposal by Kinder Morgan to twin an existing oil pipeline from Alberta to the Vancouver area is also attracting opposition as the project moves toward a formal application.
The $1-billion Pacific Trails Pipeline would deliver natural gas from northern B.C. and Alberta to the LNG terminal for shipment overseas.
The pipeline, owned by Apache Corp., Encana and EOG Resources, passed an environmental assessment in 2008. Construction was slated to begin this year and the pipeline is expected to be operational in 2015.