Two First Nations are seeking a judicial review of a provincial regulator's decision to approve a TransCanada Corp. pipeline project, alleging that they weren't adequately consulted.
The Nadleh Whut'en and Nak'azdli First Nations say the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) rushed its study of the $4.7-billion Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline that would go from northeastern British Columbia to Kitimat.
"Simply put, the EAO carried out an environmental assessment that was deficient from the outset and ignored the Nations' objections in that regard," according to the legal documents filed Thursday in B.C. Supreme Court. "Impacts in relation to aboriginal title, rights and interests were not properly assessed. No meaningful consultation occurred."
TransCanada's 675-kilometre pipeline project is designed to feed a liquefied natural gas terminal proposed for Kitimat. The LNG Canada joint venture is led by Royal Dutch Shell PLC and has three Asian partners.
"We believe that the EAO's process provided a robust consultation process concerning the project. Coastal GasLink remains committed to engagement and consultation with all aboriginal groups across this project," TransCanada spokesman Trevor Halford said in a statement.
Coastal GasLink and EAO executive director Doug Caul are named as two of the four respondents in the case. The other respondents are Environment Minister Mary Polak and Natural Gas Development Minister Rich Coleman. The B.C. government didn't have immediate comment, but pointed out that it has three weeks to respond in court.
Ms. Polak and Mr. Coleman issued a B.C. environmental assessment certificate for the pipeline project in October. The provincial regulator approved the project with 32 conditions, including a requirement for a plan to avoid harm to caribou habitat.
"We need to know how they can go issuing a certificate when we still have concerns on the ground," Chief Martin Louie of the Nadleh said in an interview.
Last month, Ms. Polak and Mr. Coleman issued environmental assessment certificates to Pacific NorthWest LNG and the related $5-billion, 900-kilometre pipeline plan called Prince Rupert Gas Transmission, which is being proposed by TransCanada. Spectra Energy Corp.'s $7.5-billion Westcoast Connector pipeline project, which would feed BG Group PLC's planned Prince Rupert LNG venture, also received a certificate.
Some aboriginal leaders say B.C.'s environmental review process is too fast for LNG projects and related pipeline proposals.
Chief Fred Sam of the Nak'azdli said Coastal GasLink needs further review to address aboriginal concerns over the pipeline's impact on the environment.
The Nadleh Whut'en and Nak'azdli First Nations say the B.C. government failed to uphold its duty to consult aboriginals properly on Coastal GasLink.
"The Crown devised a long, protracted process to provide the Nations with opportunities to 'blow off steam' before it proceeded to do what it intended all along – issue the certificate. At every turn, the Crown was unwilling to make changes based on new information and concerns that emerged during the consultation process," the court filing said.
Separately, Pacific NorthWest LNG announced Thursday that it has signed an "impact benefit agreement" with the Metlakatla First Nation's governing council, providing aboriginals with access to training and jobs.
"We're committed. We're satisfied with the agreement and we're on side," Chief Harold Leighton of the Metlakatla said in an interview.
Pacific NorthWest LNG, led by Malaysia's state-owned Petronas, filed new documents recently with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. The CEAA is the lead regulator in that LNG project, but the provincial EAO held sole responsibility for the environmental review of Coastal GasLink.