Another round of discussions — and potentially hearings oreven court cases — is on the horizon for the new branch of thenatural gas industry in Atlantic Canada, after regional natives wona legal ruling that they need to be consulted more.

Officials of the National Energy Board said it will review thenew decision by the Federal Court of Appeal. But the Dec. 1 targetstill stands for starting up the Sable Offshore Energy Project andMaritimes & Northeast Pipeline, industry officials added.

The decision was an oral ruling, and industry lawyersinterpreted it as a procedural matter for the NEB to worry about.The NEB withheld comment until its lawyers could obtain atranscript, reasons for the decision and any other materials toguide further developments. The one-paragraph decision read out incourt merely instructed the board to reconsider whether or notnative interests had been properly taken into account in decisionson the gas projects. The NEB has numerous options ranging from arehearing of native interests in the gas development to an appealto the Supreme Court of Canada.

Lawyers and advisers for the winners of the ruling, the NovaScotia Assembly of Mi’kmaq Chiefs, suggested it at least morallymeans that the new gas facilities were built illegally inhindsight. But the case included no elements of enforcement – noinjunctions against SOEP and M&NP going ahead on starting up aproject that only won approval after nearly a year of hearings by aspecial combination federal, provincial and environmental reviewpanel.

The assembly has consistently insisted the Mi’kmaq do not wantto stop development, but only to obtain a fair share of thebenefits. The Mi’kmaq are also seeking CDN$147 million (US$98million) in compensation for economic for economic opportunitiesthey claim they missed under the project’s benefits plans.

The court appeal grew out of a “protocol” for nativeconsultation that M&NP went ahead and implemented with theNEB’s blessing after the assembly withheld formal approval. Thismonth, the NEB again denied claims by the assembly that nativeseffectively have veto rights on industrial projects and approvedconstruction of a Halifax spur off M&NP’s primarily exportpipeline.

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