Ten First Nations leaders in northern British Columbia have formed a new alliance to draw attention to their environmental concerns that range from hydraulic fracturing to exporting liquefied natural gas.
One project that is raising ecological alarm bells is Pacific NorthWest LNG, said Donnie Wesley, a hereditary chief of the Gitwilgyoots, one of nine allied tribes of the Lax Kw'alaams.
Pacific NorthWest LNG, led by Malaysia's state-owned Petronas, wants to take natural gas from northeastern British Columbia and pipe the commodity to a planned export terminal on Lelu Island in the northwest part of the province.
Mr. Wesley appeared with other native leaders Tuesday at a news conference in Vancouver. Two weeks ago, he helped set up a camp on Lelu Island in what he calls the peaceful occupation of land that is part of the traditional territory of the Lax Kw'alaams.
The native leaders also say they are worried about the pace of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in northeastern British Columbia. In fracking operations, large amounts of water are mixed with chemicals and pumped into the ground to extract natural gas. Critics have expressed worries about potential water contamination.
Ten First Nations leaders signed a statement that they have sent to B.C. Premier Christy Clark.
"A more civil, legally consistent and logical approach to major project development that recognizes our laws and legal orders, and addresses the failures, is needed," according to the three-page statement. The aboriginal leaders are calling for greater scrutiny of the cumulative impacts of energy projects such as LNG proposals in the northwest and BC Hydro's planned $8.8-billion Site C Dam in the northeast.
The proposed Lelu Island terminal site, which has forested areas spread over bog deposits, would be next to Flora Bank in the Skeena River estuary. Some First Nations groups are worried about the potential impact that building an export terminal will have on juvenile salmon habitat in Flora Bank.
Pacific NorthWest LNG, which is awaiting regulatory approval from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, said recently that while there will be workers near Lelu Island, such activity does not mark the beginning of construction. "In particular, it is important for us to collect supplemental information to support and validate our proposed marine facility's design," Pacific NorthWest LNG said. "No sampling activity will take place on Flora Bank, and work will be conducted in a safe and environmentally sensitive manner, with no adverse effects to marine life."
In voting in May, members of the Lax Kw'alaams declined to provide aboriginal consent by overwhelmingly rejecting Pacific NorthWest LNG's $1-billion cash offer over 40 years.
The Petronas-led consortium has said that it carefully assessed 20 sites and selected Lelu Island from a shortlist of five locations.
Mr. Wesley said the environmental review process has been flawed, arguing that nearby Ridley Island would be a better site for an LNG export terminal. But BG Group PLC's Prince Rupert LNG project holds the development rights for a large parcel of land on Ridley Island. BG and Royal Dutch Shell PLC announced plans in April to merge.