Eagle Spirit’s oil pipeline controversy

Eagle Spirit Energy Holdings Ltd. proposes an alternative to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline project.

Eagle Spirit Energy Holdings Ltd. — backed by the Aquilini Group, which owns the Vancouver Canucks — proposes an alternative to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline project.

While Enbridge’s pipeline project would carry bitumen and would ship out of Kitimat, B.C., Eagle Spirit’s pipeline project would carry light crude oil that has already been refined in Alberta, and would ship out of Grassy Point, B.C.

The First Nations-led project offers First Nations leaders along its route a chance to oversee the entire project, in addition to a large equity stake.

Eagle Spirit has recently issued a press release saying First Nations elected and hereditary chiefs from across Northern B.C. had signed a letter declaring their support for the development of the pipeline corridor.

“This letter is historic because it’s the first time that First Nations have come together with a resolution like this,” said Wesley Sam, Chief’s Council Representative for the First Nations on the Eagle Spirit Pipeline.

Sam clarified that although Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline was planned to go through the Burns Lake area, the proposed route for the Eagle Spirit pipeline does not pass through Burns Lake.

“It is a northern route that still needs to be confirmed by the First Nations pending engineering reports, and the environmental assessment,” explained Sam. “No major decision will occur without the participation and support of the chiefs’ council.”

However, a couple of First Nations chiefs in the Burns Lake area have already stated their opposition to this project.

Karen Ogen, Chief of Wet’suwet’en First Nation (WFN), said she is against both Eagle Spirit’s and Enbridge’s proposed pipelines.

“The major issue with oil is the transportation methods; when a spill happens by pipes bursting, the devastation and cumulative impacts are numerous; these are the issues with both Enbridge and Eagle Spirit,” said Ogen.

“Our members have given me direction to not pursue oil,” she added. “Until the people give me the green light on Eagle Spirit, the answer is no.”

Lake Babine Nation Chief Wilf Adam has also said he is against Eagle Spirit’s pipeline.

Chief’s council representative Sam fired back, saying it is unclear to him how anyone can conclude anything about the proposed pipeline since the specifics of the project have not yet been determined.

“The First Nations who lie along the route, with the support of others in neighbouring communities, will determine the environmental viability of this project through the chiefs’ council representing First Nations ownership,” said Sam. “They will lead the environmental assessment process through the lens of a world-class environmental model.”

“Our chiefs believe that it is their responsibility to participate in the due diligence process of making those decisions,” added Sam. “Whether it is industry, government or the environmental movement, we will be the ones who determine what will occur on our lands.”

Earlier this year, B.C. Coastal First Nations said there is unanimous opposition to this project among First Nations communities on the B.C. coast.

“There isn’t a single First Nation on the coast of B.C. that supports oil exports,” said Art Sterritt, Executive Director of the Coastal First Nations. “Eagle Spirit is bringing forward the same interior First Nations that supported the Enbridge pipeline, and glossing over the fact that opposition among First Nations who oppose heavy oil pipelines is stronger than ever.”

Burns Lake Band Chief Dan George is one of the supporters of Eagle Spirit’s pipeline project. In February 2015, the Burns Lake Band signed a declaration of support to the project in Calgary.

“With Eagle Spirit we’re involved from the very start, before the project even goes to the environmental assessment office,” said Chief George. “This project will have a world-class model of environmental assessment.”

Chief George said he considers light crude oil to be less dangerous than bitumen in the event of a spill.

“Bitumen is too hard on our fisheries because it sticks to the bottom [of the ocean]; bitumen could ruin our salmon habitat.”

When asked what he thought of the First Nations opposition to the project in the Burns Lake area, Chief George simply stated, “that’s their prerogative.”