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Lheidli T’enneh rejects Enbridge settlement, continues with 2018 pipeline-explosion lawsuit

Nation set to publicly warn other Indigenous peoples of its experiences

After failed settlement negotiations, Lheidli T’enneh announced its continuing its civil lawsuit against Enbridge over the 2018 pipeline explosion, which occurred north of Prince George.

Its Council has also decided to publicly warn other northern First Nations about their experience in dealing with Enbridge in a campaign called “Tell the Indigenous Neighbours.”

On Feb. 27, 2019, Lheidli T’enneh launched a lawsuit against Enbridge for damages caused by the explosion and to force Enbridge to remove its pipelines from the unceded ancestral lands of the territory.

In spring last year, Enbridge contacted Lheidli T’enneh requesting a meeting to discuss the lawsuit and to explore the possibility of negotiating a settlement.

“Discussions were recently held between the parties at Enbridge’s request to see if a negotiated agreement could resolve the grievances set out and actions requested in the lawsuit. Those discussions did not bear fruit,” said Lheidli T’enneh’s lawyer Malcolm Macpherson during today’s announcement (March 25).

“In the interim, Lheidli T’enneh will be meeting with their Indigenous neighbours to share with them the various serious concerns they have about Enbridge’s ability to safely transport hydrocarbons through Indigenous reserves and territories.”

Following the explosion, the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) launched an investigation and concluded Enbridge did not adequately implement a stress-corrosion monitoring program that would have identified the problem section of the pipe. 

Westcoast Energy, an Enbridge subsidiary, was subsequently issued a $40,000 fine for failing to prevent the blast.

“On Oct. 9, 2018, my clients describe what can be described as a massive fireball eruption of an Enbridge gas pipeline, which crosses approximately 1.5 km of their reserve land,” said Macpherson.

“The incendiary blast and resulting fireball was terrifying. Lheidli T’enneh experienced what they described as pandemonium on the day of the explosion. From their vantage point, there was no competence, let alone world-class safety emergency operations in place following the explosion.”

No one was physically harmed in the explosion, but the blast forced more than 100 people in a two-kilometre radius to be evacuated as a precaution and Lheidli T'enneh claims many members still live in fear that another explosion could occur.

“They have to cross over this when they drive into the reserve,” says Macpherson.

“It causes, naturally, a lot of anxiety when you are  driving over a pipeline into your reserve when it recently exploded.”

Macpherson says the Nation’s preference is to have the pipeline rerouted off the entire territory, which is more than 100 km of pipeline, but at the very minimum, it would be ideal to have the 1.5 km that traverses one of the reserves rerouted.

"To start, I would like it off the reserve,” adds Lheidli T’enneh Dayi Clay Pountney.

“I don’t know what that would take, but I know our community is extremely scared of moving over this all the time.”

Macpherson says the pipeline is roughly five decades old and there is sparse evidence of Lheidli T’enneh’s involvement in its development.

“I can observe that in the '50s, major projects were developed and there was virtually no engagement or compensation with the Nations at that juncture in time.”

Enbridge says, in an emailed statement to PrinceGeorgeMatters, it hopes to continue to reach a settlement and avoid a lengthy legal proceeding.

“We’re disappointed the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation has chosen to walk away from negotiations and rejected our offer of bringing in an impartial mediator to help resolve this matter. We have made several generous offers to the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation for the Shelley incident over the course of many months of negotiations. However, the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation is looking for a settlement from Enbridge on matters beyond the incident itself and that aren’t in our control or involve other parties.”

Enbridge adds it has learned from the incident and has taken action to ensure the safety of our natural gas system.

“Since the incident, we’ve completed a comprehensive pipeline integrity program on our natural gas pipeline system in B.C. to significantly improve pipeline safety.”

However, Lheidli T’enneh council says it's now beginning the “Tell the Indigenous Neighbours” campaign to share its experience following the explosion.

“We want to warn our Indigenous neighbours to be wary of doing business with Enbridge,” says Pountney.

“We are treated like they are 'Goliath' and we are 'David,' they just walk in and just do as they please and they are used to acting in this manner and this has to change going forward.”

Enbridge says it continues to seek "a long-term, respectful and mutually beneficial relationship with the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation based on our shared values of safety, environmental protection and economic development."

Macpherson says civil proceedings are in initial stages and could take a few years before they are concluded.