The NEBC Connector, which would move around 98,000 b/d of Montney Shale liquid byproducts, has cleared a court hurdle erected last year that stiffened protection of Indigenous territory in northeastern British Columbia (BC).

Montney Shale

NorthRiver Midstream NEBC Connector GP Inc., a subsidiary of Brookfield Infrastructure LP, was seeking approval by the Canada Energy Regulator (CER) to build a 215-kilometer (130-mile) natural gas liquids (NGL) system with dual pipes.

In a two-to-one split decision, a CER tribunal allowed the C$350 million ($280 million) project to advance into an approval assessment after a contested preliminary application “completeness” review. The preliminary stage lasted nine months and affected 35 Indigenous bands.

The marathon preliminaries sought adaptations to a court verdict, won by Blueberry First Nation near the Fort St. John northern industrial capital. The verdict banned new industry permits until the BC government provided an Indigenous role in granting them.

In the Montney, the verdict only referred directly to the provincial BC Oil and Gas Commission (BCOGC) and its jurisdiction over approvals of drilling, production and allied field operations.

However, tribal interventions in the CER pipeline case were encouraged with an emphasis on accountability to Indigenous people.

The CER ruled that the pipeline project submitted a “robust” application that enables a fair approval assessment and should not face “unexpected and overly onerous requirements.”

The NEBC Connector sponsor also presented a 297-page manual on the rights and environmental conditions of all tribes touched in any way by the NGL conduit.

The CER requested further details of environmental conditions in the project region, Indigenous access to public land, shale gas development expectations, treaty rights and including tribes in planning to replace disturbed ancestral territory.

While banning new provincial permits, the court verdict did not halt industry. 

The BC government salvaged 195 previously approved shale gas and forestry projects last fall by paying Blueberry compensation of C$65 million ($52 million).

NEBC Connector estimated that BC liquefied natural gas exports alone eventually may require 2,500 Montney wells, 313 kilometers (188 miles) of field pipelines and 250 kilometers (150 miles) of production site access roads.

Work continues on a new BC industrial permit system but no deadline has been set. Government and Indigenous participants turned down a CER invitation to give a progress report, saying their negotiations are confidential.