Pipeline agreement highlights differences

The complex agreement, more than 500 pages long, does not lend itself to a concise summarization, said Paul Wyke of Apache Canada.

The Feb. 25, 2013 announcement of a joint commercial agreement between the provincial government, the Pacific Trails Pipelines limited Partnership (PTP) and 15 First Nations seems to highlight the polarization of opinion regarding the construction of natural gas pipelines across B.C.’s north to proposed liquid natural (LNG) gas plants in Kitimat.

The revised benefits agreement will provides up to $200 million in benefits to First Nations members of the First Nations Group Limited Partnership (FNLP), whose traditional territories will be impacted by the construction of the pipeline.

The FNLP is made up of the Haisla Nation, Kitselas First Nation, Lax Kw’allaams Band, Lheidli T’enneh First Nation, McLeod Lake Indian Band, Metlakatla First Nation, Nadleh Whut’en First Nation, Nak’azdli Band, Nee Tahi Buhn Indian Band, Saik’uz First Nation, Skin Tyee First Nation, Stellat’en First Nation, Ts’il Kaz Koh First Nation, West Moberly first Nations and the Wet’suwet’en First Nation.

Nee Tahi Buhn band Chief Raymond Morris, an executive member of the FNLP said, “This agreement secures significant financial and economic benefits for First Nations who play a vital role in one of B.C.’s leading LNG projects. It not only establishes that industry and First Nations can cooperate in the successful development of major projects, it also points to how it can be done.”

According to Burns Lake Band Chief Albert Gerow, the agreement will provide a cash influx upfront, and further payments through an impact benefit agreement.

“There may be larger payments provided to a band depending on the amount of area that the pipeline impacts in their territory,” he said.

The complex agreement, more than 500 pages long, does not lend itself to a concise summarization, said Paul Wyke of Apache Canada.

But some First Nations remain concise in their opposition to the proposed pipeline.  The Office of the Wet’suwet’en, with offices in Smithers, B.C. was not a signatory to the agreement.

Their traditional territories would be crossed by the PTP project.

“The agreements need to be made with the appropriate title holders of the land,” said David Dewitt, resource manager for the Office of the Wet’suwet’en (OW).

“Our position is that the OW represents our hereditary governance structure that has been in existence for thousands of years,” Dewitt said. “It’s those clans and houses that hold collective title and associated rights to our territories.”

“The Wet’suwet’en clans and house groups have decided that PTP is not in the best interests of the nation,” he said.

Roberts Metcs of Havik Metcs Limited is the chief negotiator for the FNLP.

“My mandate as lead negotiator was to use the power of the collective to get the best possible potential commercial deal,” Metcs explained. “Each First nations in the partnership was responsible for doing their own environmental assessment and assessments of the project and impacts to rights and title.”

Metcs is aware that the hereditary chiefs of the OW have not signed on with the agreement. He described the process of developing the agreement as a transparent process where each First Nation was able to look at the document and make their own cost-benefit analyses.

“What you have within the FNLP is 15 First Nations that looked at it and said that they could support it,” Metcs said.

Metcs added that the OW decision not to sign on was theirs to make. The  current agreement does not exclude the possibility of the OW eventually sitting down at the pipeline table.

But for Dewitt, the issue isn’t the benefits offered through the agreement. It’s the very idea of a natural gas pipeline going through their traditional territories that is unacceptable.

“The Wet’suwet’en have spent a number of decades protecting their salmon stocks and these proposed projects [PTP and others] cross right through the headwaters of our salmon-spawning grounds,” Dewitt said. “The benefits offered were a non-issue because the project is not condoned within the Wet’suwet’en territory.”

The PTP project already has the required B.C. Environmental Assessment Certificate that it needs to begin work, but Dewitt questions whether or not the province ever had enough complete information to make an informed decision regarding the project.

“The real issue is how the crown makes decisions,” he said. “It’s our position that there never was enough information for the crown to fulfil its obligations to not only consult, but to identify infringements to Wet’suwet’en title and associated rights.”

The Office of the Wet’suwet’en is distinct from the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, which has signed on to the agreement. Wet’suwet’en Chief Karen Ogen was not available for comment at press time.

It is not clear what continued opposition on the part of the OW will mean to PTP.