First Nations in northeastern B.C. are holding a major summit to discuss the impacts of liquefied natural gas development.
More than 300 delegates are expected to attend the three-day event, which begins Monday in Fort St. John, to discuss the social, environmental and cumulative impacts of LNG development in B.C.
"LNG's kind of this mystical thing. You know, everybody talks about LNG, but nobody really understands what's involved in producing LNG," said Roland Willson, chief of the West Moberly First Nation.
What is involved is fracking, an extractive process that involves drilling holes deep into the ground and pumping them with high-pressure chemical fluids to release natural gas from shale rock.
Willson says thousands of fracking wells are already operating in the north, and there could be up to 80,000 more if the province's plans for LNG development move forward.
"Everybody's all excited about this stuff, you know all these job creations and things like that, and we're standing up in northeastern B.C. and saying, 'Holy cow guys, you know, we've already got 40,000 wells.'"
Premier committed to LNG
The development of B.C.'s natural gas industry has been key to Premier Christy Clark's economic platform. She says the trillion-dollar industry will create 100,000 jobs for British Columbians and will help pay off the province's debt.
She also says LNG is key to fighting climate change because it will reduce the global reliance on coal.
Clark's commitment to LNG development was reiterated last week in the speech from the throne, read by B.C. Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon.
"Natural gas is the world's cleanest non-renewable fuel, which would make an appreciable difference in the global fight to cut emissions. And this government is taking steps to realize this opportunity," read Guichon.
"Agreements have been reached for the two parcels at Grassy Point, with Aurora LNG and Woodside, respectively. This government is taking steps toward establishing the LNG Buy BC initiative to match B.C. businesses, small and large, with LNG investors and projects."
The government's plan includes creating a framework for LNG regulation and taxation this year, and working toward ensuring First Nations benefit from resource extraction.
Mixed First Nations reaction
Many First Nations communities in B.C. have accused the province of failing to engage in meaningful consultation with those whose territory will be most affected by LNG development.
Other First Nations communities, however, have said LNG will mean sustainable jobs and economic stability.
Willson says LNG can be extracted responsibly, and to the benefit of First Nations. He says this week's summit is intended to create more awareness about the issues.
"The majority of the people in British Columbia, when they talk about LNG, they think about the ships that are going overseas," he said.
"They don't understand that in order to put the LNG in those ships, they've got to poke holes in the ground in northeastern B.C. and fill the pipeline up to get it through."
This is the third summit of its kind — previous meetings took place in Prince George and Prince Rupert — but the first to be held at the source of natural gas development.
The summit ends Wednesday when former Federal Liberal leader Bob Rae delivers a keynote address.