The LNG Sector and Economic Reconciliation
Natural gas development in BC is driven by unconventional gas reserves such as hydraulically fractured tight gas and potentially coalbed methane, while the likely presence of vast quantities of methane hydrates offshore holds long-term economic potential (Farris, 2012). Investment and interest in capitalizing on these reserves has surged in BC over recent years, as plans to export LNG to Asia come to fruition. In addition, the climate crisis has sharpened the need for a move away from higher-carbon-emitting alternatives such as coal or oil to lower-carbon-footprint energy sources such as LNG that can facilitate the move towards a carbon-free economy over the medium to long-term.1
The growing LNG sector in BC is also emerging as an arena for advancing economic opportunities and participation as key components of reconciliation with First Nations. According to the provincial government (BC Government, 2021), more than 90% of First Nations along the province’s proposed northern pipeline routes have signed BAs. This represents 63 agreements with 29 First Nations for four proposed natural gas pipeline projects: Prince Rupert Gas Transmission; Coastal GasLink; Pacific Trail Pipeline and the Westcoast Connector Gas Transmission project. The province has also completed a BA with Haisla Nation to construct an LNG facility and marine shipping terminal on their territory in Kitimat (BC Government, 2021). In addition to benefits received from the provincial government, LNG proponents are also reaching their own agreements with First Nations that include contracting opportunities and employment commitments.
Examples of these agreements include the following:Lax Kw’alaams, Metlakatla and Gitga’at and Kitselas First Nations entered into facilities agreements related to Pacific NorthWest LNG (a project that was eventually cancelled in 2017) and other potential LNG facilities in the Prince Rupert and Kitimat areas
- Lax Kw’alaams and Metlakatla First Nations had an Environmental Monitoring Agreement for Pacific NorthWest LNG
- Through the Coastal First Nations LNG Benefits Agreement the Wuikinuxv, Heiltsuk, Kitasoo/Xaixais, Gitga’at, and Metlakatla First Nations are working with the BC government on environmental safety and stewardship, airshed impacts, greenhouse-gas emissions, renewable energy, skills training and employment projects related to LNG projects on the coast.
- Similarly, for the Kwispaa LNG project on Vancouver Island (a project that now is stalled), Huu-ay-aht First Nations had a unique “co-management relationship” with Steelhead LNG of Vancouver. FNLNGA members are engaging with LNG development in the province. For the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, a natural- gas pipeline means benefits that include training and revenue. Additional benefits include cultural revival and reinforcement, and a rebirth of some traditional practices and language revitalization (FNLNGA, 2021).
”We see significant employment for our members, access to educational opportunities…a way forward for a truly independent nation and respect for the environment.” – Crystal Smith, Haisla First Nation Chief Councillor.
The Squamish Nation’s approval of environmental certificates for the Woodfibre LNG project, and for the related FortisBC pipeline expansion, led to creation of an environmental working group for each project. The Squamish Nation notes: “It is the job of the Environmental Working Groups to ensure Squamish Nation’s environmental conditions are met” (Squamish Nation, 2021). Woodfibre LNG has publicly characterized the Nation’s role as “both a project partner and an environmental regulator” (Squamish Nation, 2021).
Overall BAs can serve as a tool to help avoid the past wrongs of unjust, unfair and colonial patterns of resource extraction, while also creating sustainable pathways for shared prosperity and community resilience for those Indigenous Peoples who want to participate as equal partners in the LNG sector.
From a historical standpoint, BAs represent an important development in the relationship between Indigenous Peoples, the government, and private companies (Donihee, 2009). As Caine and Krogman (2007) suggest, these agreements represent an opportunity for Indigenous Peoples to not only gain economically from resource extraction but also affect the trajectory and scale of development. As alternative forms of influence, BAs provide a potential pathway to address issues of historical colonialism, the language and cultural values people are forced to work under, and dominant economic institutions” (Bone, 2009; Newhouse, 2000 in Caine and Krogman, 2007, 77).
Nonetheless, a review of evidence from other economic sectors such as mining suggests that a number of systemic barriers persist in enabling BAs to meet their intended potential as vehicles for social justice, equity and economic reconciliation. For example, as scholars such as Fumoleau (1975) and Gibson and Klinck (2005) have argued, that the well-being and values of Indigenous Peoples have been fundamentally affected by colonialism and these considerations have often been subordinate to resource extraction.
Indigenous Peoples engaging in BA processes navigate a vast array of issues, ranging from land rights, gender equity, capacity, fiscal arrangements and good governance – each with their own set of pitfalls, opportunities and constraints.
The material presented in this guide catalogues critical BA-related issues that will vary in salience, urgency and complexity based on the specific circumstances faced by particular members of the FNLNGA in BC.