If you really want to achieve energy sustainability, you need to take the whole world into consideration, says Chief Ellis Ross of the Haisla First Nation. "My eyes were really opened by looking at China," he says. "They are going to get their energy needs met any way they can. If all they can get is coal and oil or diesel, that's what they're going to use. Of course if they do, global warming will be accelerated and we'll all be at risk."
And that, he says, is why projects like the LNG Canada export terminal for liquid natural gas (LNG) make so much sense. "If we provide them with liquid natural gas, which is less harmful to the environment, and is easier to ship and easier to clean up if it does spill, then they will use it, and the result will be a more sustainable energy environment, not just for China, but for the whole world because it will slow down the pace of global warming."
He adds that in addition to using liquid natural gas as an energy source for more than two decades, the Haisla have been studying the idea of exporting it through their lands for the better part of 10 years. "We've been assessing every single facet of it and feel this is the right project for us in terms of its impact on the environment and its impact on rights and title, but most importantly because it can solve social problems we've been struggling with for a long time. We used to have 60 per cent unemployment, now we have 23-year-olds from the reserve getting mortgages and buying cars and travelling, which are things I struggled my whole life to do."
In the rush to capitalize on the benefits of having an LNG export terminal in their backyard, the Haisla are not turning a blind eye to the potential risks, including pipeline leaks and spills. "I'm a marine guy," says Chief Ross. "I'm a hunter and a fisherman, and protecting the environment is very important to me and my people."
Obviously there are some risks, he says, but when LNG does escape containment, it largely dissipates. "I go by pipelines every day travelling from the village to Kitimat or Terrace, and the only time we ever had a leak was when somebody digging burst a pipe. And nothing happened; it made a lot of noise, but the gas dissipated and there was no fire. And there has been great progress made in the way problems are dealt in terms of response time and methods for dealing with leaks. The LNG industry has a very good record."
Ultimately, he says, the partnering relationship the Haisla have with LNG Canada on the export terminal project mean he and his people will share in the risks, the rewards and the responsibilities. "This is different than anything that has been happening to us for the past 70 years, a time when no one talked to us or offered us opportunity, either economically or in terms of providing input on environmental concerns. This time, we're going to be involved at every level."