The B.C. government has been careful to consult aboriginal communities about the development of the liquefied natural gas industry, but one group says there has been scant attention paid to First Nations when it comes to drilling activities that could damage the environment.
The Treaty 8 First Nations in northeastern British Columbia have blasted the provincial government, saying it is giving short shrift to their concerns related to natural gas drilling and processing.
Eight aboriginal leaders signed the letter of complaint, and representatives delivered the letter to B.C. Premier Christy Clark at an international LNG conference Thursday in Vancouver.
The northeast B.C. aboriginal leaders want greater scrutiny over hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, especially the huge quantities of water that are mixed with chemicals and then pumped into the ground. They are worried about potential water contamination from fracking and also point to air pollution related to sulphur emissions from gas processing.
The Treaty 8 First Nations say they were alarmed when the province recently sought to fast-track plans for certain natural gas processing plants, seeking to exempt them from proper environmental assessments.
"While you have since rescinded this order, it speaks to the degree of the lack of consultation and the inadequate working relationship with First Nations who are directly impacted by such decisions," said the three-page letter of complaint.
Speaking earlier to delegates at the energy convention, however, Ms. Clark said the government has enjoyed smooth relations with aboriginal groups. While legitimate concerns have been raised about resource development, the province has held fruitful discussions with First Nations on the topic of potential economic benefits from developing LNG export terminals, she said.
"We do have a big generational opportunity here as British Columbians to include First Nations in the mainstream of the economy in a way that we have not done in the past," Ms. Clark said. "For me, this is a tremendous economic opportunity, tremendous environmental opportunity and an incredible social opportunity to include people who haven't been included before."
Several First Nations leaders said in interviews that they have been impressed so far by consultations, at least on the LNG side.
Art Sterritt, executive director of the Coastal First Nations, said the province and LNG proponents have kept him abreast of their plans for piping natural gas from northeastern British Columbia to proposed export terminals in the northwest.
Ellis Ross, chief councillor of the Haisla First Nation near Kitimat, said the B.C. government and energy companies deserve credit for their open-door policy with the Haisla.
"But we don't give LNG a blank cheque," he said. "We're working with different levels of government around tanker traffic and pipeline safety. We're still concerned about bunker fuel from tankers and emissions from the export terminals."
During a recent visit to Vancouver, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said the fracking issue needs to be addressed in British Columbia. Mr. Kennedy, senior attorney with the U.S. Natural Resource Defence Council, said many Americans are worried about fracking, and Canadians must also be vigilant about maintaining water quality.
The Treaty 8 First Nations assert that plans for LNG export terminals on the West Coast have overshadowed the fracking issue in northeastern B.C.
"While B.C. consistently and publicly states that the relationship between First Nations and the B.C. provincial government is extremely important, the actions of your government show a pattern of token consultation with the Treaty 8 First Nations," said the letter to Ms. Clark.