Landmark LNG agreement under fire in lawsuit

The Blueberry River First Nations have filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court seeking to quash the province's landmark liquefied natural gas deal with a company controlled by Malaysian energy giant Petronas.

Blueberry River First Nations' B.C. Supreme Court petition claims province ignored treaty rights

B.C. Premier Christy Clark announced agreements last May for a liquefied natural gas development on the province's northwest coast. (CBC)

The Blueberry River First Nations have filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court seeking to quash the province's landmark liquefied natural gas deal with a company controlled by Malaysian energy giant Petronas.

The first nations claim the government ignored their treaty rights in reaching a long term royalty agreement with Progress Energy and four other parties to extract LNG from an area of northeast B.C. known as the North Montney.

The gas would be liquefied at a proposed export facility built near Prince Rupert by Pacific NorthWest LNG, which is also controlled by Petronas.

"The infrastructure development required by the long term royalty agreement and planned by Progress Energy would cause serious harm to Blueberry Rivers First Nations territory and treaty rights," the petition says.

"It would destroy, fragment, pollute and otherwise disturb thousands of acres of animal habitat."

'Aggressive drilling program'

B.C.'s Liberal government announced the LNG agreements with great fanfare last May as part of a future that will see investments of up to $36-billion US in the northern part of the province.

Pacific NorthWest LNG has proposed a pipeline and terminal on Lelu Island just south of Prince Rupert to export Progress Energy's gas.

Lelu Island, near Prince Rupert, BC, is the proposed site of the Pacific Northwest LNG project, backed by the Malaysian energy company Petronas. (Robin Rowland/Canadian Press)

According to the petition, the company expects to drill 6,200 new wells and construct 14 gas plants in order to supply the facility.

The first nations claim the company will also have to build hundreds of roads and pipelines in their territories.

The petition says the agreement with Progress Energy sets the royalty rates the companies must pay the province for the next 23 years.

The deal commits the company and its partners to spending $3 billion on infrastructure in the next five years and $1 billion a year on infrastructure and development.

"(Minister of Natural Gas Development Rich Coleman) has publicly referred to the natural gas extraction contemplated under the long term royalty agreement for the Pacific NorthWest LNG export facility as an 'aggressive drilling program'," the petition reads.

"These required infrastructure developments and the drilling program will be undertaken in and around Blueberry Rivers First Nations territory. The Crown has not notified or consulted Blueberry River First Nations about these infrastructure developments."

'Treaty rights ignored'

The first nations claim the province ignored treaty rights including guaranteed access to clean water, hunting, trapping and fishing in reaching the LNG deal.

They claim the infrastructure development would "displace Blueberry River First Nations families from areas they have traditionally used to hunt, trap, gather, camp and otherwise carry out their lives."

Minister of Natural Gas Development, Rich Coleman says LNG is the key to jobs and revenues in the province's future. (CBC)

When Premier Christy Clark announced the agreements, a news release said the province had consulted with First Nations along the proposed pipeline route and reached 14 agreements.

But the Blueberry Rivers First Nations claim B.C. "has not met or otherwise communicated" with them about the agreement, "its potential adverse impacts on the territory, the critical areas or the treaty rights."

The first nations are seeking an order quashing or setting aside the decision to enter into the agreement. They also want a declaration that the Crown has not met its constitutional duty to consult with them.

'We will continue our engagement'

The Blueberry River First Nations filed a lawsuit last spring claiming their treaty rights were also violated in relation to the planned Site C hydroelectric dam.

The latest petition follows opposition to construction of the Pacific NorthWest LNG terminal by members of the Lax Kw'alaams First Nation who say the facility would sit on their traditional territory. 

Earlier this month, the band's hereditary chief said they reached out to the Prime Minister's Office to have the project stopped.

The government held a special sitting of the legislature last summer to pass a bill allowing them to enter into the agreements. The project is forecast to create 4,500 jobs in the construction phase and up to $8.6 billion by 2030 in tax and royalties.

The province would not comment while the case is before the courts.

"In general, long-term royalty agreements create certainty companies need to invest in our province and create jobs for British Columbians. To help achieve this certainty, we engage with impacted First Nations before finalizing long-term royalty agreements," a spokesperson said in an email.

"Long term royalty agreements do not alter our commitments to First Nations and we will continue our engagement for any proposed activities on Blueberry River First Nations territory."

Read the B.C. Supreme Court petition.

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