First nations carving out an energy bridge to the B.C. coast – Nathan Vanderklippe (Globe and Mail – February 5, 2013)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

CALGARY — For the Canadian energy industry desperate to pump oil and natural gas through British Columbia, the single greatest obstacle has been the dozens of first nations fighting to ensure pipelines are never built.

Now, some of the leading figures in Canada’s aboriginal business community are offering a bridge across the province’s difficult political landscape. They have formed Eagle Spirit Energy Holdings Ltd., a company quietly working to create a first nations-owned energy corridor across northern B.C. that could serve as a physical line across the province to move natural gas, electricity and oil.

It’s an idea that promises first nations a much greater involvement in moving Canada’s energy, from large equity stakes in pipelines to major construction contracts, tugboat work, and engagement in spill response. In exchange, it promises the energy industry a possible route to the B.C. coast with less of the opposition that has confronted major pipelines in B.C., such as Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway.

At a time when Canada faces seemingly intractable conflict between first nations and a resurgent resource sector, Eagle Spirit also presents a shimmer of hope that a third way may be possible. And the company has some deep-pocketed backers, including the Aquilini family, which among other assets, owns the Vancouver Canucks.

Eagle Spirit’s path, however, is unlikely to be easy, given the tremendous complexity of negotiating with dozens of first nations, and the huge cost and expertise required to build pipelines and power lines.

Still, the work has already begun. Eagle is in talks with coastal first nations on whose land export terminals would be built, in the belief that gaining approval from groups like the Lax Kw’alaams is the critical first step in assembling broader support. And because a corridor will require gaining title to what is now Crown land, Eagle is launching talks with government, beginning with B.C. this week, and Ottawa in the next few weeks.

If first nations can take an active role in owning and managing new pipelines, “they will be a lot more conducive to wanting to see projects develop in their territory,” said Calvin Helin, a well-known author and B.C. first nations leader who is Eagle Spirit’s president. That’s especially true “when they know they’re going to get a fair share of what’s going on and be in a position of reasonable stewardship and control,” he said.

Eagle is not the first attempt to directly involve first nations in moving oil. A small company called G Seven Generations Ltd. has sought to assemble native involvement in an $8.4-billion plan to build an oil export railway to Alaska. In addition, First Nations Limited Partnership was formed so more than a dozen first nations could jointly negotiate for benefits from Pacific Trails’ pipeline proposal to carry natural gas to Kitimat, B.C., for export.

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