Pacific NorthWest LNG has reached impact-benefits agreements with two First Nations, part of a series of announcements designed to spur plans to build a liquefied natural gas project in northern British Columbia.
The energy consortium, led by Malaysia's state-owned Petronas, said Wednesday that its pacts are with the Lax Kw'alaams Band and Metlakatla First Nation.
Two elected aboriginal leaders, Lax Kw'alaams Mayor John Helin and Metlakatla Chief Councillor Harold Leighton, took part in a ceremony in Victoria on Wednesday to promote the agreements as crucial for supporting Pacific NorthWest LNG's quest to export fuel to Asia.
B.C. Premier Christy Clark and Deputy Premier Rich Coleman said the province also signed new deals with the two First Nations, touting the potential for job creation while meeting environmental standards.
"Since the days of first contact, the history between aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities have been fraught many, many times with events that have left tragic scars and much regret," Ms. Clark said. "By making change and creating new relationships, we start to heal the past because we are creating a better future."
Wan Badrul Hisham, chief project officer at Pacific NorthWest LNG, said he views the energy endeavour as a partnership with First Nations that would last for decades.
"This can only be achieved by successfully working respectfully together with area First Nations and the local communities to ensure that economic development comes not at the expense of the environment," he said.
The proposed $11.4-billion liquefaction terminal near Prince Rupert would be part of $36-billion in spending, including having TransCanada Corp. construct two pipelines. The B.C. Liberal government is hoping that the Petronas-led consortium will make its final investment decision this summer, though some industry observers believe the project could be stalled until at least mid-2018, as a global glut of LNG depresses prices for the fuel.
But Mr. Leighton from Metlakatla said he is excited by plans for aboriginals to work closely with the province and the consortium. "We're very optimistic that this project is going to go ahead," he said.
The planned liquefaction terminal is slated to be built on Lelu Island in the Port of Prince Rupert. "For the first time in my lifetime, in my history, we're really a part of what's happening within our traditional territory as far as looking after the environment and getting benefits that I think we deserve as people from that territory," said Mr. Helin, who was elected Lax Kw'alaams mayor in November, 2015.
Shaky economics, court challenges and infighting among hereditary chiefs have complicated matters for Pacific NorthWest LNG.
Environmentalists, a group of scientists and some Lax Kw'alaams tribal hereditary leaders oppose the project, saying that juvenile salmon habitat on a sandbar called Flora Bank, next to Lelu Island, is at risk of being destroyed.
Patrick McLaren, a geologist who is president of SedTrend Analysis Ltd., wrote a report last year commissioned by the Gitanyow First Nation, whose traditional territory is roughly 150 kilometres northeast of Flora Bank. His study raises concerns about Flora Bank vanishing if the B.C. project is built.
The federal cabinet approved the Pacific NorthWest LNG project last September, but Mr. McLaren said the potential environmental damage has been severely underestimated in reviews by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.
"The Canadian people have been told that the science is good and satisfactory, and that is not true," he said in an interview.
Key components to the province's deals announced Wednesday include aboriginal benefits linked to Pacific NorthWest LNG and also TransCanada's planned $5-billion Prince Rupert Gas Transmission pipeline that would transport natural gas from northeast B.C. to Lelu Island.