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BC Supreme Court Sides With Aboriginal People, Overturns Commission’s Pipeline Approval

The British Columbia Supreme Court has made an example of a private Calgary company and a small natural gas pipeline project to teach industry and regulators a lesson that they must pay attention to native rights.

The ruling overturned an approval that the BC Oil and Gas Commission granted for a 39-kilometer (24-mile), 12-inch diameter pipeline that Rockyview Resources Inc. seeks to install in the northern Horn River Shale region.

The nearest native group, Fort Nelson First Nation, persuaded the BC Supreme Court that the company and the commission alike failed to do proper community consultation and neglected caribou habitat conservation.

The modest addition to the BC pipeline grid was approved as a routine item that did not significantly change the Horn River region or increase environmental disturbance accumulated over previous decades of industry activity.

In a statement on the court ruling, the commission pledged to focus procedures more tightly on environmental issues and work on improved aboriginal consultation.

At the time the protest lawsuit began about a year ago, Fort Nelson community leaders emphasized that the action should not be misinterpreted as an attempt to drive industry away from northern BC shale gas.

"It's important to stress that as a nation, we support and encourage economic development opportunities in our territory," said a tribe statement. "We look to proactively engage both proponents and the crown on development opportunities so that they can be planned in a way that creates long-term benefits for our members while also respecting our lands, water and treaty rights."

The Fort Nelson native community repeated the assurance that industry is still welcome after winning the verdict demanding responsible corporate and regulatory behavior.  “If our concerns with appropriate caribou management had been taken seriously by the commission and by the company, this project may well have proceeded,” Fort Nelson Chief Harrison Dickie said in a statement.

Rockyview Resources is in the early stages of developing BC shale drilling prospects acquired from the bankruptcy sale of Quicksilver Resources’ assets, and has an entry in the long lineup of proposals for a liquefied natural gas export terminal on the Pacific coast. The firm has not disclosed next steps in response to the court ruling.

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