Canadian federal and provincial authorities have set out to earn native acceptance for liquefied natural gas (LNG) and pipeline projects by enlisting aboriginal participation in environmental regulation.
A precedent has been set by a new agreement with indigenous communities on British Columbia's northern Pacific coast to create a permanent, cooperative industry watchdog agency, confirmed National Energy Board (NEB) chairman Peter Watson.
"This is an important step forward," Watson told an assembly of the Canadian Indian Resource Council on the Enoch Cree reserve along the east side of the Alberta capital of Edmonton. "We are putting in place a foundation, and beginning a new way of working."
The council represents 195 reserves affected by oil, natural gas, mining and forestry development in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
This is the pioneer foray into creating a structure for easing tensions between escalating native power demands and industrial growth centers on the Asian entry into the 20-project lineup to build gas export terminals, Pacific NorthWest LNG.
Participants include the national environment department, BC's natural gas development ministry and the Lax Kw'alaams and Metlakatla First Nations. The tribes' traditional territories include Prince Rupert, where Pacific NorthWest has federal and provincial approval for a C$11-billion (US$8.5-billion) terminal capable of loading up to 3 Bcf/d into overseas tankers.
The agreement sets up a permanent monitoring committee of federal, provincial and native representatives and a supporting technical and professional structure to oversee and report on the project's performance for its entire lifespan.
"The Government of Canada is committed to a renewed nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples based on recognition, rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership," said a joint statement on completion of the agreement this week.
"The committee is the product of input and feedback from Indigenous peoples." Costs are expected to be paid by the governments, potentially supported by contributions from the industrial development sponsors.
The outlook for the LNG export plan remains unsettled, described by Malaysian state-owned senior partner Petronas as under "total project review" covering shaky market prospects and cost effects of 190 regulatory approval conditions. But the Canadian native peace formula is already spreading, Watson told the Indian council. Similar structures are in the works for recently approved oil sands export pipeline expansions by Kinder Morgan Canada and Enbridge, said the NEB chairman. He reported the federal government "will co-develop advisory and monitoring committees with Indigenous communities along the routes of those two projects."
Watson predicted, "The Committees will allow for ongoing identification and resolution of issues of importance to Indigenous groups, and contribute to the effectiveness of the Board's lifecycle oversight of pipeline construction operations." He promised, "Meaningfully engaging Indigenous peoples and seeking opportunities for you to work alongside us is how the NEB plans to operate, going forward."
The LNG and pipeline project sponsors are co-operating with the new regime. From an industry perspective native participation in environmental management has potential to prevent Canadian versions of the American aboriginal uprising at Standing Rock that disrupted construction of the Dakota Access pipeline.
From the native perspective the new collaboration formula is a contribution towards resolving rights conflicts among aboriginal communities as well as between them and government and industry, described by an Indian council policy paper.
"Canada struggles to reconcile two apparently contradictory realities," says the paper, titled First Nations Engagement in the Energy Sector in Western Canada.
"On the one hand, the natural resource sector is the largest employer of highly-paid First Nations workers in the country, has supported a dramatic expansion of Indigenous entrepreneurship and has empowered dozens of First Nations communities through major financial and engagement agreements. At the same time, pipelines and the complexities of petroleum exploration and development have created numerous flashpoints and conflicts between Aboriginal communities, companies and governments."
The national effort to build a progressive development regime on collaboration also shows in an agreement between the Alberta government and the 33,000-member Metis Nation of Alberta, signed at the same time as the environmental monitoring pact.
The Alberta deal makes commitments to "increase economic opportunities" and "develop the capacity of Métis individuals, businesses and communities to participate" using "partnership development and joint planning" by native and government agencies.