B.C. Deputy Premier Rich Coleman says plans for a liquefied natural gas terminal near Prince Rupert will be judged on a science-based environmental assessment, urging the project's critics to wait for details from a federal review.
A group led by a Lax Kw'alaams First Nation tribal leader complains that Pacific NorthWest LNG will damage juvenile salmon habitat if the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) approves the terminal proposed for Lelu Island. Donnie Wesley, a hereditary chief of the Gitwilgyoots tribe, argues that no amount of mitigation measures would protect ecologically sensitive Flora Bank, located next to Lelu Island in the Skeena River estuary.
But Mr. Coleman said critics should allow the CEAA to finish its job and study new submissions – notably scrutinizing more details expected from the company about its plans for building an $11.4-billion terminal.
The project's opponents "say there should be a strong environmental review process, and there is. Although they haven't seen all the information, they're already out there, saying this isn't right," he said in an interview. "Well, they always say it should be based on science, but they're prepared to prejudge it."
Malaysia's state-owned Petronas heads the consortium, one of 20 projects in British Columbia vying to export fuel to customers overseas, mostly targeting Asia.
The CEAA started its review into Pacific NorthWest LNG in April, 2013. Since then, there have been five pauses to what industry observers originally thought might be a process that would take two years at most. The latest delay arose this year when the federal regulator temporarily halted its review on June 2 – Day 263 of the 365-day process.
After the agency renders a ruling, possibly in February, a final decision by federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna could be made in March. That final decision would be within the legislated time frame of 365 days, excluding potential delays from further CEAA requests for more information from the consortium.
Mr. Coleman, who also serves as B.C. Natural Gas Development Minister, met during a Singapore energy conference last month with the chief executive officer of Petronas, Wan Zulkiflee Wan Ariffin, and other officials from the Kuala Lumpur-based company. "I talk to them regularly and I keep them informed about what's going on with discussions with First Nations," Mr. Coleman said. "I talk calmly about what my expectations are. Canada has high environmental standards."
Mr. Wesley and his supporters set up camp to occupy Lelu Island in late August, staking claim to the traditional territory of the Allied Tribes of Lax Kw'alaams.
"The company is trying to build an LNG plant without our consent," Mr. Wesley said. "People are standing up and saying you can't do this. They couldn't have picked a worse spot because the environment around Flora Bank is critical for us. Go anywhere else but here."
Greg Horne, energy co-ordinator with the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition, said support for Mr. Wesley is evident from an anti-Pacific NorthWest LNG letter sent last week to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The letter – signed by an array of First Nations leaders, environmentalists and others concerned about the risks to salmon habitat – asks Mr. Trudeau to reject the venture.
The Haida Nation recently passed a resolution to oppose LNG tankers. But the Tsimshian Environmental Stewardship Authority, formed in July by the Metlakatla and four other native groups, believes there could be an acceptable way to export LNG without harming Flora Bank's eelgrass, which nurtures young salmon.
Pacific NorthWest LNG defends the project, portraying it as one that will be built to the highest environmental standards and avoid what critics allege would be a devastating impact on Flora Bank. Lelu Island and Flora Bank are under the jurisdiction of the Prince Rupert Port Authority.