British Columbia

Steelhead LNG project gets early OK from Huu-ay-aht Nation

Steelhead LNG has secured approval from the local First Nation to move forward with a liquefied natural gas facility on the west coast of Vancouver Island, but at such an early stage, few of the project's details are known.

The 750-person Huu-ay-aht Nation on Vancouver Island's west coast voted 70% in favour of the project

The Huu-ay-aht Nation purchased the proposed Sarita LNG site on the west coast of Vancouver Island from Western Forest Products in February, paving the way for the Steelhead LNG plan. (Steelhead LNG)

It's one of many hurdles on the road to getting a major liquefied natural gas facility up and running — approval from the First Nation upon whose land the export facility will be built.

That's what Steelhead LNG got on Saturday, when the 750-person Huu-ay-aht Nation on Vancouver Island's west coast voted 70 per cent in favour of the Vancouver-based energy company's proposed Sarita LNG project.

"We are thrilled to be, at this point, working with the Huu-ay-aht First Nation that we believe are setting precedence, not only in Canada for Aboriginal relations with industry but also globally," said Nigel Kuzemko, CEO of Steelhead LNG.

Kuzemko and his Huu-ay-aht counterparts believe the co-management agreement announced Monday in Vancouver is the first of its kind, and that the First Nation's approval came earlier in the project development than in any other proposed LNG pipeline or export facility. 

Huu-ay-aht head hereditary Chief Derek Peters (left), chief councillor Robert Dennis (centre), and Steelhead LNG CEO Nigel Kuzemko (right) address media at Steelhead's Vancouver office on Monday. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"We really need to emphasize the fact that Huu-ay-aht is participating in this project at the co-management level. We're going to have a say in how this project proceeds, and that's a first in B.C," said Robert Dennis, chief councillor with the Huu-ay-aht Nation.

Co-management deal

The project will have a six-person oversight board that will have three seats saved for Huu-ay-aht representatives. The First Nation will also get a seat on Steelhead's corporate board.

"[I'm] elated, fantastic — it feels really good. An incredible opportunity is on our doorstep and we want to pursue that opportunity," said Dennis. "We're seizing it on the goal that we are going to make things better for the Huu-ay-aht people."

According to the chief councillor, the Huu-ay-aht community isn't facing as severe an unemployment problem as some First Nations, but he said there's a wide gap between the prosperity in his community and that in the rest of Canada.

"We are going to pursue at least 15 per cent of the jobs [from the project] and we'll take it from there," he said.

Wishkey leads several members of the Huu-ay-aht Nation in a song at the Steelhead corporate office in Vancouver on Monday. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Kuzemko declined to provide many specifics on the proposed export facility, saying it was far too early in the development to know the estimated cost of the project or how many jobs may be created.

"We've been awarded, by the [National Energy Board], export licences for 24 million tonnes [per year] from the Sarita Bay location," said Kuzemko, who hopes to target the north Asian LNG market when the facility could begin exporting in 2024.

But first, Steehead has to figure out how to get natural gas from the source in northeastern B.C. and northwestern Alberta across B.C., across the Salish Sea, and over Vancouver Island to the Sarita Bay site near Bamfield.

There are also more regulatory hurdles to clear and, of course, uncertainty about what global LNG demand could look like in seven years.

The company's final investment decision will come in 2019 or 2020, according to Kuzemko.

Opposition to the project

Crystal Clappis, who left the position of Huu-ay-aht executive director last September, was among the people who voted against the project on Saturday.

Former Huu-ay-aht executive director Crystal Clappis voted against the Steelhead LNG project. (Crystal Clappis)

"Before we had to vote, we were not told or we have no for-sure information whether [the proposed facility] is going to be land-based or floating. We don't know the size. We don't know anything about it," said Clappis, who was devastated to learn the outcome of the vote.

"I was crushed. Like, I literally just cried. I couldn't believe that our people — 70 per cent of them — would vote in favour of something that they don't have all the details about," she said, adding that complete environmental assessments haven't been done.

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About the Author

Rafferty Baker is CBC Vancouver's mobile journalist. Follow him @raffertybaker