The Metlakatla First Nation has become the eighth aboriginal group to support TransCanada Corp.'s Prince Rupert Gas Transmission, a B.C. pipeline project that would transport natural gas to a West Coast export terminal.
TransCanada's $5-billion pipeline venture aims to supply a proposed plant that would export liquefied natural gas from Lelu Island to customers in Asia. The Metlakatla, one of five Tsimshian First Nations consulted during a provincial environmental review last year of Pacific NorthWest LNG, signed a project agreement with TransCanada. The pact details financial, employment and other benefits for the Metlakatla.
Calgary-based TransCanada wants to move natural gas along a 900-kilometre route from northeast B.C. to the Pacific NorthWest LNG project led by Malaysia's state-owned Petronas.
"We are confident that TransCanada will work diligently to ensure our way of life and the environment, and in particular Lelu Island, will not be negatively affected by the project," Metlakatla chief councillor Harold Leighton said in a statement Tuesday.
But many members of the Lax Kw'alaams First Nation are digging in, fighting the pipeline plans and Pacific NorthWest LNG. For the past five weeks, there has been a protest camp set up on Lelu Island to draw attention to a sandy area nearby called Flora Bank. A planned suspension bridge and pier over the northwest flank of Flora Bank would place juvenile salmon habitat at risk in the Skeena River estuary, according to Lax Kw'alaams leaders.
The Allied Tribes of Lax Kw'alaams are claiming title to Lelu Island and Flora Bank in the Port of Prince Rupert, arguing in a court filing last week that LNG export plans interfere with aboriginal fishing rights. Metlakatla leaders, however, say Lelu Island and the Skeena River estuary are also important parts of their traditional territory.
Two Tsimshian groups, the Metlakatla and the Kitselas, signed term sheets in December that precede impact benefit agreements with Pacific NorthWest LNG. The Lax Kw'alaams, Kitsumkalum and Gitxaala are the other three Tsimshian groups consulted last year by the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office. The Kitsumkalum and Gitxaala have not yet announced their decisions on whether to support the pipeline and LNG project.
TransCanada said it doesn't have a specific target for deals with First Nations, but pointed out that it also has six pacts with aboriginal groups for its Coastal GasLink pipeline venture, which would supply natural gas to the Royal Dutch Shell PLC-led LNG Canada project in Kitimat.
The eight project agreements at Prince Rupert Gas Transmission are with the Metlakatla, Kitselas, Doig River, Halfway River, Yekooche, Gitanyow, Lake Babine and Nisga'a Lisims.
"Achieving this agreement with the Metlakatla First Nation is a major milestone for us, particularly since it has a significant interest in the Skeena estuary and wants to ensure that the environment around the Pacific NorthWest liquefaction facility is protected," Prince Rupert Gas Transmission president Dean Patry said in a release issued by TransCanada.
Pacific NorthWest LNG estimates that $36-billion will need to be spent to make its planned exports a reality by late 2019. The budget includes $11.4-billion for the LNG export terminal on Lelu Island, $5-billion for Prince Rupert Gas Transmission, $1.7-billion for North Montney Mainline, Petronas's $5.2-billion acquisition of Progress Energy Canada in 2012 and at least $12-billion related to drilling and natural gas production in northeast British Columbia.