Just two weeks after Canada’s National Energy Board rejected calls for it to review the contested Coastal GasLink shale gas pipeline, a First Nation in northeast British Columbia revealed the company behind the project tried to pressure it to squelch community opposition to the project.
The NEB ruling in late July was the latest twist in the effort by Smithers, British Columbia resident Michael Sawyer to establish that Coastal GasLink must be subject to federal review. The case turns on two specific features of the project: it would operate within a single province, which would bring it under provincial jurisdiction, but would feed an international liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal, which Sawyer says would make it subject to federal approval that it has not sought or obtained.
Although the pipeline “is set to be built entirely within B.C.—which would usually put it under the jurisdiction of the province—the pipeline, which would supply the LNG Canada export terminal in Kitimat, connects to an existing pipeline system that is federally regulated,” The Narwhal reported in a profile of Sawyer last October. “Also, Coastal GasLink Pipeline Ltd. is a wholly-owned subsidiary of TransCanada Pipeline Ltd., which means under the Constitution Act the pipeline is within federal jurisdiction and should be regulated by the National Energy Board, Sawyer says in an application to the board.”
TransCanada has since moved to sell off up to 75% of its ownership of Coastal GasLink, and has also rebranded itself as TC Energy.
The NEB ruling means that “the C$6.2-billion Coastal GasLink—a critical part of the $40-billion LNG Canada project—will not be subject to a review or regulation” at the federal level, industry newsletter JWN Energy reports. “Work is already under way on the project, and a review by the NEB would likely have added delays.”
Sawyer had issued his challenge after an initial NEB ruling that a provincial environmental review was sufficient for the project. The fossil-friendly regulator stood its ground in its July 26 decision.
“Based on the totality of the record before it, the board does not find a basis to conclude that the project is properly within federal jurisdiction,” the ruling stated. “Given the board’s decision, the board will not issue a declaratory order that the project is properly within federal jurisdiction and subject to regulation by the board.”
About two weeks later, Coastal GasLink was back in the news, based on a leaked benefits agreement between the company and the Nak’azdli Whut’en First Nation, located about two hours northwest of Prince George.
“Coastal GasLink often promotes the fact it has signed agreements with the elected leadership of 20 First Nations along the proposed pipeline route as evidence of support for its project. But the specifics of these individual agreements have been kept out of the public eye,” CBC reports.
The document release shed light on some good and some very bad news. “Among the benefits to Nak’azdli in the leaked agreement are education and training, contracting and employment opportunities, annual legacy payments over the lifetime of the pipeline, and ‘general project payments’ to be paid in three installments,” the national broadcaster states. “But there’s also a condition that the band will ‘take all reasonable actions’ to dissuade its members from doing anything that could ‘impede, hinder, frustrate, delay, stop, or interfere with the project, the project’s contractors, any authorizations, or any approval process,’” and from taking part “in any media or social media campaign”.
“To me, it speaks to the fact that they really don’t think we’re full human beings, to be honest,” responded community member Nicholette Prince. “We’re just in the way—like the spotted owl or the caribou. I have no idea how somebody could put that in writing. No municipality would be allowed to sign off on such civil restrictions.”
Prince told CBC she doesn’t oppose the pipeline, though she’s concerned about “what’s happening to the Earth”. But “it is disheartening to see agreements like this being passed that really seem to minimize our humanness.”
First Nations economic development lawyer Merle Alexander said Coastal GasLink isn’t the only fossil including gag orders in impact and benefit agreements with affected communities. “It’s definitely starting to show up in the standard template,” he said. “If you think that the proponents’ advisers and the proponent are fairly sophisticated, the fact that they’re asking for that, I think, is unconscionable. I think it’s illegal and contrary to the Charter.”
Alexander said some First Nations have successfully disputed similar clauses. But “it’s important for communities to have adequate resources to be able to comb through these contracts, he said, and push back on provisions to which they object,” CBC writes.
“Coastal GasLink often promotes the fact it has signed agreements with the elected leadership of 20 First Nations along the proposed pipeline route as evidence of support for its project,” CBC notes. Nak’azdli was the last of the 20 to sign, with Chief Alec McKinnon casting the tie-breaking vote after 70% of the community voted against the project in a referendum.