Fort Nelson First Nation wins legal challenge against Nexen oil

Nexen was ordered to cease pumping water for fracking from Tsea Lake.

Fort Nelson First Nation (FNFN) has won a potentially precedent-setting legal battle ordering Nexen Inc., an upstream oil and gas company, to cease pumping water from FNFN territory.

The Environmental Appeal Board (EAB) cancelled the water licence given to Nexen in 2012 for shale gas fracking in the Horn River Basin. The license allowed Nexen to pump millions of cubic meters of water from Tsea Lake, a small lake about 90 km northeast of Fort Nelson.

“Granting this license was a major mistake by the province,” said FNFN Chief Liz Logan. “Our members have always used the Tsea Lake area in our territory to hunt, trap, and live on the land.”

According to Chief Logan, the company pumped water out of Tsea Lake even during drought conditions.

“There were major impacts on the lake, fish, beavers and surrounding environment,” she said. “Water is a huge concern for us; by approving this license, the province demonstrated it is not protecting the public interest in water.”

According to the EAB, the science behind the license was fundamentally flawed in both concept and operation. In addition, the EAB found that the province failed to consult FNFN in good faith and breached its duty to consider the potential impacts on FNFN.

Chief Logan said this decision sends a clear message to the B.C. government and to the fracking industry that liquefied natural gas development will not happen at the expense of lakes, rivers and treaty rights.

“The province just can’t arbitrarily be issuing permits without good science, good data and expert opinion, and without meaningfully consulting with us,” she said.

Although FNFN challenged Nexen’s water license in court, Chief Logan said FNFN has been dealing with the oil and gas industry for decades and is not against economic development in the area.

“We want to work with the province and industry on sustainable development in our territory, but we are being ignored,” she said. “We have [worked with the province] in the past, and are willing to do so moving forward, as long as our treaty rights are respected and the public interest in environmentally sustainable development is upheld.”

Nexen told Lakes District News that the company respects the right of any stakeholder potentially affected by their operations to take steps to ensure their concerns are heard and addressed.

Diane Kossman, Manager of Corporate Communications for Nexen, said the company has implemented an extensive water monitoring and management program to ensure protection of water resources.

“Responsible water management is a priority across all of our operations,” she said. “In Northeast B.C., we’ve emphasized the development and implementation of new processes and technologies to reduce our water use and our impact, and protect water sources.”

Since Nexen had significantly slowed the pace of exploration and development in the region due to depressed commodity prices, Kossman said EAB’s decision does not have any immediate impacts to Nexen’s operations.

“We are in the process of reviewing EAB’s decision and have not made any decisions on next steps,” she said. “Nexen will be examining our options with respect to securing water rights in the area.”

Calgary-based Nexen, owned by Chinese state-controlled CNOOC Ltd., was recently ordered to suspend operations on 95 pipelines by the Alberta Energy Regulator. The decision came after one of the largest leaks in Alberta history where about five million litres of emulsion were spilled from a Nexen pipeline at its Long Lake oil-sands project south of Fort McMurray. Earlier this month, Nexen was allowed to resume operations on 40 of its 95 pipelines which were previously ordered to be shut down.