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The Douglas Channel is the proposed termination point in British Columbia for the Northern Gateway oil pipeline from Alberta. (DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
The Douglas Channel is the proposed termination point in British Columbia for the Northern Gateway oil pipeline from Alberta. (DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

How Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline lost its way Add to ...

Yet what the Haisla made clear two years ago is that for all of the company’s efforts, opponents remain willing to go to remarkable lengths to undermine Gateway. In the fall of 2011, Enbridge allowed its legal interest in the land chosen for its terminal – called a map reserve – to expire. (Although the map reserve did not give Enbridge formal title to what remains a parcel of Crown land, it did effectively cordon off the area for the company to pursue Gateway.)

In the expiry, the Haisla saw an opening. If they could convince the B.C. government to earmark the land for them instead, they would have the ability to influence who used it.

“We didn't want the land for Enbridge. We actually wanted the land there for projects that were approved by Haisla,” Mr. Ross says.

They weren’t expressly trying to kick Enbridge out, Mr. Ross says. But the Haisla stood to deal a potentially fatal blow to Gateway, since the project’s regulatory application was predicated in part on environmental studies of that exact piece of land. The Haisla opened talks with the B.C. government, kicking off a secretive months-long process that saw the involvement of provincial ministers and, ultimately, the federal government. Enbridge eventually sent high-level executives to Victoria, to demand the land not be plucked away – and eventually, the Haisla were told Ottawa supported the Enbridge effort. Ultimately, they failed.

The Haisla did win a partial victory: Enbridge no longer has its name on the map reserve. That parcel is now listed as “neutral,” giving the Haisla some ability to influence how it is eventually used. And the Haisla themselves are eager, if there is an opening, to try again to take it over.

“We made it clear to everyone that at some point,” Mr. Ross says, “we're coming back after that land.”

Eroding relationships

The Yekootche First Nation make their home northeast of Fort St. James, B.C., an area familiar with the energy industry thanks to its rich reserves of natural gas. When Enbridge first came to discuss Northern Gateway nearly a decade ago, the Yekootche were open to talking. First Nation representatives flew to Edmonton to tour Enbridge’s operational centre. They built trust with the Enbridge team. Things were going well.

Then Enbridge went dark.

Enbridge first contemplated sending oil west in 1998; Gateway was formally announced in 2004. But when Enbridge asked for firm commitments to the project, oil shippers balked. Building a pipeline across B.C.’s difficult political and legal landscape seemed too difficult. Besides, the U.S. seemed like a better market. So in 2006, Enbridge put Gateway on hold. The Yekootche were left alone.

That changed in 2008, before the financial crisis, when the oil patch was in an expansion frenzy and eager to diversify its markets. The regulatory risk was still there, but suddenly the reward seemed worth it. Gateway was revived. The Yekootche were back in demand.

But this time, the project was run by a new set of unfamiliar faces.

It was “relationship building, a sense of abandonment, relationship-building, assurances that abandonment would not occur again, and then a new team,” said a person on the Yekootche negotiating team.

The second team was led by Roger Harris, who for two years served as an Enbridge vice-president on Gateway. The list of failings he recites is long. Gateway is a “story of what they did that continued to erode their credibility over time,” he says. He adds: “It’s the loss of credibility that becomes the loss of your project.”

He describes an unconcerned top executive: Mr. Daniel, who only met with Mr. Harris once, he says, and only to discuss a trip to the coast that Mr. Harris says he was subsequently uninvited from after providing unwanted advice. (Mr. Daniel did not respond to requests for an interview.) Early in the 2000s, a group of Treaty 8 First Nations came to Enbridge to discuss equity participation – partial ownership – in the pipeline. Enbridge declined. When the company subsequently revived the idea amid rising opposition, it sought to tie First Nations support to their ownership share, an idea Mr. Harris had warned against. It looked too much like buying love.

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