The Squamish Nation Council has granted conditional approval to a liquefied natural gas project in Howe Sound, saying the environmental risks can be managed if proper technology and controls are in place.
The main concerns of the aboriginal group focus on discharge from Woodfibre LNG's planned cooling system near Squamish, notably the impact that warm chlorinated water would have on small fish in Howe Sound.
"We've seen this trend of revitalization in Howe Sound. If we're going to allow further industrialization, we need to have mechanisms and assurances that the technology is the best available. The next step is the technical analysts to prove that the system won't have an adverse impact," Squamish Nation Chief Ian Campbell said in an interview Wednesday.
The approval this week by a majority of council members comes after they delayed a vote in July on whether Woodfibre LNG meets their environmental and cultural conditions.
"This is one step in a multistage process, so it's definitely not a green light for the entire project. It allows us to issue an environmental certificate that would be legally binding. The Woodfibre LNG facility must abide by all the conditions that the Squamish Nation has imposed," Mr. Campbell said.
Byng Giraud, Woodfibre LNG's vice-president of corporate affairs, said it is crucial that the Squamish Nation have its own environmental assessment process, in addition to the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office's review. "We believe that by working together with First Nations, we can build a better project," Mr. Giraud said in a statement.
Mr. Campbell acknowledged that environmentalists and some Squamish Nation members will continue to have legitimate complaints about the $1.6-billion venture, privately owned by Singapore-based RGE Pte. Ltd. and controlled by Indonesian businessman Sukanto Tanoto. "We've heard the environmental and safety concerns and we certainly pay attention to the voices out there. We've been able to provide conditions to address the concerns," he said. No agreement has been reached yet on a pipeline proposed by FortisBC that would transport natural gas for Woodfibre LNG.
The aboriginal group's announcement coincided with Wednesday's opening of a three-day LNG conference at the Vancouver Convention Centre.
"If you're not from British Columbia, you won't know that I'm always accused by my political opponents of being an optimist. And it's true. I am an optimist," Premier Christy Clark told more than 1,000 delegates.
British Columbia has 20 LNG proposals, but intense global competition means only a few stand a chance of launching, industry experts say.
"Pessimists are always waiting for exactly the right moment to come along, and guess what, that moment never does. They're always waiting," Ms. Clark said.
She said the fledgling B.C. LNG industry offers economic opportunities for First Nations.
B.C. Aboriginal Relations Minister John Rustad will be moderating a panel discussion with three native leaders on Thursday.
Mr. Rustad said the province understands the concerns of the Lax Kw'alaams First Nation, which is worried about the impact of Pacific NorthWest LNG's project on juvenile salmon habitat near Prince Rupert.
"We also want to make sure that we are not sacrificing one industry or one component for another. Salmon is critical," he said in a recent interview after a presentation to an Insight Information conference. "We don't want to see a project go forward that is going to cause any significant damage on that resource, particularly for the Skeena River."
Mr. Rustad said if scientific studies prove that Pacific NorthWest LNG won't harm juvenile salmon habitat in Flora Bank, then the export terminal should be constructed on Lelu Island.
A new report by consulting firm KPMG Canada took note of five projects that have been making progress: Pacific NorthWest LNG, LNG Canada, Kitimat LNG, Woodfibre LNG and Douglas Channel LNG.