The Coastal GasLink Pipeline project involves the construction and operation of an approximately 650-km natural gas pipeline from near Dawson Creek to near Kitimat. (TransCanada image)

Editorial: TransCanada must cooperate with regional district

If TransCanada goes forward with its controversial plan to run a liquefied natural gas (LNG) pipeline from Dawson Creek to Kitimat, communities along Highway 16 could soon feel the effects as the company builds massive camps for its crews of workers.

The Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako (RDBN) is trying to make sure these communities get a good deal in exchange for the presence of the camps, including commitments from TransCanada to upgrade local infrastructure, hire local people — including Indigenous people — and protect the natural environment. TransCanada should listen up.

Work camps located near Burns Lake and Houston would house approximately 600 and 850 workers respectively during peak period of construction, according to a December 2017 letter from TransCanada to the RDBN. Those are big population increases that could strain local resources.

To legally build the Tchesinkut Lake camp (near Burns Lake), the Calgary-based company needs permission from the regional district. The same is likely true for the Huckleberry site (south of Houston). The RDBN has urged TransCanada to start the application process immediately for the temporary land-use permits that it will need.

Those applications would normally set in motion a review process about the environmental and social impacts linked to the work. But the company has said that it won’t apply until contractors have been hired to build those camps. This, in turn, hinges on whether LNG Canada — an oil and gas behemoth led by Shell Canada — decides to invest in an export facility in Kitimat.

That might seem reasonable enough at first — why get permits for an uncertain project? But TransCanada could easily afford that level of engagement in the communities where it intends to operate.

Instead, the company appears to be deliberately dragging its feet. Call it a power play. Once those contracts have been inked, the regional district will face pressure to issue the permits immediately, potentially reducing how much time members of the community will to have for input.

TransCanada has said that it wants to make sure that construction happens before the permits expire (they are good for a maximum of three years), as if to suggest that the company mustn’t apply too early or they’ll miss their window of opportunity. This is no excuse. The permits are renewable, and the RDBN could even delay issuing them until TransCanada is ready to start work.

In face of TransCanada’s intransigence, RDBN is going ahead and reviewing the Tchesinkut Lake project ahead of the company’s application — this is a good idea.

There are broader questions to be asked about whether fossil fuel pipelines should proceed at all in an age of cataclysmic man-made climate change. But if this one does proceed, ordinary people should have control over how their lives and communities are affected.

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