The 66-month regulatory ordeal of Canada’s Arctic natural gas project includes epic efforts to drum up aboriginal participation in the process, according to a summary provided to the National Energy Board (NEB) by the federal justice department.
A specialist Ottawa native relations agency, the Crown Consultation Unit for the Mackenzie Gas Project (MGP), has been pumping C$1 million (US$990,000) a year out to native groups just provide them with “capacity” to talk to the authorities, the documents said. That cash is the tip of an iceberg that also includes more than C$60 million (US$59.4 million) in federal payments to settle grievance lawsuits with Northwest Territories and northern Alberta native nations that threatened to make the regulatory review even slower.
Ottawa is further committed to dishing out C$500 million (US$495-million) as an MGP Impact Fund to cover native communities’ needs, which they will determine if construction of the proposed Mackenzie Valley Pipeline goes ahead.
On the industry side, the biggest single outlay for securing native co-operation to date is a C$140 million (US$138.6 million) cash advance by TransCanada Corp. The money has gone to the Aboriginal Pipeline Group to cover its one-third share in costs of the pipeline part of the MGP’s regulatory review.
The territorial aboriginal group, which received one-third ownership of the gas transmission project prior to the construction application’s filing, only has to repay the money if the pipeline is built, in installments to be deducted over years from annual toll revenues. TransCanada’s interests include building a northward extension of its Nova grid in Alberta to connect to the Mackenzie line, potential options to obtain a larger project share, and filling its own system with Arctic gas.
Meeting logs and brief minutes of meetings fill a five-volume report on native consultations provided to the NEB for its final argument stage of the MGP hearings marathon in April. The documents provide rare glimpses into the complicated native scene that the project has been attempting to steer a way through.
Among the Deh Cho First Nations alliance of Dene settlements along the southern 40% of the Arctic pipeline route, for instance, the project walks a tightrope between natives who oppose it as an intrusion and neighbors who want the work and revenue that it might provide. At a community meeting in Hay River, K’atlodeeche First Nation Chief Alec Sunrise told how the divisions can boil over into opposition from both factions.
In Hay River, the operating base for the native-owned Northern Transportation Co. Ltd.’s Mackenzie River barge fleet, a sizable segment of the population welcomed prospects providing services and workers for a 250-man pipeline construction work camp. But another significant segment wanted no part of the project. The upshot was that the project consortium scrapped the camp to save time, money and aggravation by assembling industrial modules at a site on the Beaufort Sea coast and barging them to installation points along the Mackenzie River.
“It’s an issue, these project changes,” the meeting minutes record Sunrise as saying. “We wanted to tap into it (the MGP) and now all of a sudden that opportunity is gone. These are the things that we fear — that we won’t be able to go along and be able to deliver (project benefits).” K’atlodeeche official Peter Sabourin added, “We want business opportunities just like everyone else. We agree that there are concerns with dangerous goods on barges and the potential to impact the water. We still have those concerns. We also want people to work.”
The frustrated native leaders acknowledged that the work camp opportunity is history and presented as a substitute one of the most frequent benefits demands heard from aboriginal groups. The request is for creation of jobs as project monitors. “We need funding on our side to do our own monitoring,” Sunrise said. “Those who use the land, they know the water, plants and creeks. They use the land and know it, and changes are happening,” the chief observed. “This is something that won’t come easy and something we need to focus on and get some funding.”
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