For the past year, government and industry have worked hard to make "LNG" part of British Columbians' everyday language. Hailed as a generational opportunity, LNG promises to deliver trillions of dollars of investment, a debt-free future and tens of thousands of jobs while ensuring the highest environmental standards in the world. It all seems simple, almost elegant.
Sadly it has taken the images from New Brunswick over the past two weeks to raise the debate around "shale gas" to the national stage. It has taken Elsipogtog people being arrested, and images of burning vehicles to illuminate how raw the tension is between the indigenous peoples, and the federal and provincial governments around unchecked resource extraction.
We feel particularly close to our relatives in New Brunswick. We share a connection through our treaties and our concern for the land, water and air and the future generations in the face of shale gas.
We are Dene and Cree people – people of the river and people of the land – a nation of eight hundred. We are also treaty people. In exchange for the guarantee that we are free to live our lives as formerly and undisturbed by newcomers, our ancestors agreed to share our lands and to live in peace with our new neighbours. Today, we are a small, remote community 2,200 kilometres north of Vancouver. We are grappling with a powerful industry that brings significant economic benefits to B.C. and profound environmental impacts to our territory.
While our brothers and sisters of the Elsipogtog First Nation are facing a future of shale gas and fracking, our land has been hit hard since 2007 by deep environmental impacts and treaty infringements that come from shale gas extraction, processing and transport.
Three of the four shale gas reserves in B.C. – the Horn River, Liard and Cordova Basins – are in our territory. LNG proponents regard these as world-class assets and are securing their billion dollar LNG investments on the coast with them. And while British Columbians are talking about LNG opportunities, we at the Fort Nelson First Nation are bracing for a 600-per-cent increase in shale gas exploration, drilling and fracking over the next 25 years – all induced by BC's LNG strategy.
At 72,000 square kilometres, our territory is roughly the same size as New Brunswick. In the heart of our territory, three quarters of the Horn River Basin is already crisscrossed by seismic cut lines three metres wide. Aggressive seismic programs are underway or proposed in the Liard and Cordova Basins. One large seismic program has the same linear disturbance as one pipeline to the coast, yet the public has never heard about it. In all we estimate nearly 80,000 km of disturbance has already occurred in our territory.
After seismic exploration comes thousands of kilometres of roads and pipelines, hundreds of thousands of acres of well pads, gravel pits, water storage pits, compressor stations, gas processing plants and other industrial installations.
Should a modest number of LNG plants be built we anticipate at least 3,000 new wells will be drilled and fracked over the next decade. This will remove millions of tonnes of frack sand from our land, and trillions of litres of water from our rivers, unleashing a race for large-scale industrial frack sand mining and freshwater withdrawals.
Industry has already proven unable or unwilling to stay within the generous water allocations provided to them for fracking.
Two of the largest gas plants in North America are operating in our territory while a third has just received its B.C. Environmental Assessment Certificate. Gas plants along with compressor stations, well flaring, and fugitive emissions will be major sources of pollution and GHGs in B.C. This is the price we are asked to pay to fulfill B.C.'s LNG strategy. We believe it is too high of a price.
To have peace there must be sharing. This became clear to us as we watched the events unfold in Elispogtog. To truly have peace, we as a people must be able to share in the wealth and protect the integrity of our land. We need new mechanisms for decision making and both the industry and government must be willing to change their ways.
Sharlene Gale is chief and Lana Lowe is lands director of the Fort Nelson First Nation.