BY RICHARD GILBERT - The B.C. government apologized and rescinded changes to environmental regulations for proposed natural gas plants, after a local First Nation expelled officials and industry representatives from a conference in Fort Nelson.
“I would like to acknowledge First Nations concerns about amendments to the Reviewable Projects Regulation under the Environmental Assessment Act,” said B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak.
“Our government apologizes for failing to discuss the amendment with First Nations prior to its approval.”
In an abrupt policy U-turn, Polak reversed changes to provincial environmental regulations on April 16.
The changes, which were announced on April 14, would have removed the requirement for an assessment to build sweet natural gas processing plants.
The Environmental Assessment Office said change was needed to reduce duplication with the Oil and Gas Commission and the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. The new regulations were to take effect on April 28.
The Fort Nelson First Nation (FNFN) was upset and outraged, when they heard about the plans for deregulation on April 15.
“We were highly disappointed when we learned that the First Nation who could be devastated or suffer the most damage from LNG development would not go through an environmental assessment process,” said FNFN Chief Sharleen Gale.
“I feel insulted they could not tell me to my face. We weren’t aware of any of this and the sad thing is the amendment was stamped and dated on April 11.”
The news came as a shock to the FNFN and Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.
“In a stunningly stupid move, the province has effectively declared war on all B.C. First Nations and jeopardized all LNG discussions throughout the entire province of B.C.”
The FNFN were not consulted about the elimination of the provincial environmental review process for proposed natural gas plants.
“We don’t think it is fair to have an environmental assessment process for pipelines and LNG export facilities, and the Fort Nelson First Nation are denied a chance to participate in the process, because we are the upstream part of the industry,” said Gale.
The FNFN were hosting a three-day conference titled Striking the Balance.
About 300 First Nations leaders, provincial and federal government representatives and gas industry executives gathered to discuss the risks and opportunities that come with the development of shale gas and the creation of a new LNG industry in B.C.
“The word from my elders is it doesn’t matter how they treat you,” said Gale from the podium to conference attendees.
“You treat people kind. You treat them with respect, even when they’re stabbing you in the back. So, I respectively ask government to please remove yourself from the room.”
At this point, Gale held up an eagle feather high in the air and twelve Dene, who were also on the stage, began to beat their drums and sing.
Several dozen government officials promptly stood up and were literally drummed out of the conference.
The LNG and shale gas industry representatives were asked to stay behind for a few minutes to hear about the nation’s concerns in greater detail.
Then, they were also dismissed.
Gale and the FNFN elders were deeply insulted because B.C. Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation John Rustad recently visited their community on April 13 and 14.
According to Gale, Rustad was welcomed into their territory and taken on a fly over of the Horn River Basin to get a first-hand account of all their concerns.
She said the FNFN talked freely and openly about how they can work with government to be an active and equal partner in B.C.’s shale gas-LNG opportunity.
“In terms of key decisions, they must know that we are the ones who are responsible for managing and governing our territory,” said Gale.
“We will decide if projects in our territory go forward or not. If we are to get nothing, then they will have nothing.”
Earlier this month, B.C. Premier Christy Clark accepted all the recommendations that were made in the Premier’s Liquefied Natural Gas Working Group: Final Report. The report’s first recommendation is to develop a structure no later than July 1, 2014 to deal with skills training and workforce planning issues related to the LNG opportunity, with equal representation from industry, organized labour, First Nations and government.
The B.C. Liberal Party’s most important economic policy is Clark’s job creation plan, which focuses on promoting the benefits of building a new LNG industry by 2020.