The Nation 2 Nation conference in Vancouver took a northern turn Thursday when a major advancement was announced on the future of a liquefied natural gas mega-project.
The Petronas proposal is a front-runner in the LNG industry's interest in northern B.C. The Malaysian-based company has a three-part system in the design phase: extraction in the Peace, a pipeline across the northern interior and a shipping terminal on the west coast.
The shipping port is critical to the other two phases of the suite of Petronas components. In order to construct the multi-billion dollar facility, a suitable location has to be agreed upon by the company, the provincial and federal governments and any First Nation that may be impacted.
The Kitselas First Nation in the Prince Rupert area stood up at the aboriginal business forum with an agreement for that vital end location piece of the puzzle.
"These agreements reflect Kitselas' continued commitment to sustainable economic development in our territory and in B.C.'s Northwest," said Kitselas chief Joe Bevin.
"Together with our agreements with Pacific NorthWest LNG and LNG Canada, they balance our stewardship responsibility for the lands and resources with the objective of participating in the economic future of B.C. Through the reconciliation agreement, we expect to grow our government-to-government relationship with the province to one that is mature, respectful and wide reaching."
The agreement was an acknowledgement by the Kitselas people that environmental conditions, as proposed, were acceptable to them. It also provided a framework for revenue-sharing between themselves as a First Nations government and the Province of British Columbia.
"As the LNG industry on the north coast develops, these agreements and the support of Kitselas First Nation will help build stronger, healthier, more prosperous communities throughout the region," said Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad, the Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation and whose riding encompasses the largest part of the LNG pipeline map.
While a final spot has not been verified for the Petronas shipping facility (under the title of Pacific Northwest LNG), this agreement with the Kitselas people gets the company closer to finalizing the spot on which to build. They still have to show, through an environmental review, that the project would have little or no impact on fish stocks and water health.
They also have to move through some court challenges that have been launched by opponents of their intentions to ship LNG off that area of the B.C. coast.
Those hurdles are separate from the necessity to obtain social license, on paper, from the First Nations affected by any aspect of the proposal. That topic - the interface of major industry and aboriginal rights - is the basis for the Nation 2 Nation forum.
"I would like to commend the true leadership shown by Chief Bevan and council," said Wan Badrul Hisham, the chief project officer for Pacific Northwest LNG.
"For over four years, Pacific NorthWest LNG has enjoyed a respectful and productive relationship with the Kitselas First Nation, highlighted by the first Impact Benefit Agreement signed between PNW LNG and an area First Nation. Moving forward, we look forward to continuing the strong relationship and open dialogue with Chief Bevan, council and all members of the Kitselas First Nation."
There are many more First Nations agreements for Petronas to obtain across the route of the proposed pipeline and the extraction fields of the northeast. Hisham stressed, though, that a final go-ahead decision was likely more than a year away for the entirety of the proposal.