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First Nations behind Eagle Spirit pipelines hope to get clarity from gov't before moving forward

The chiefs behind the Eagle Spirit pipelines project have filed a request with the National Energy Board for guidance on how to proceed before making a formal application.

Pipeline corridor would span from Fort McMurray, Alta., to Prince Rupert, B.C.

The Eagle Spirit pipeline corridor would provide a route to get Alberta oil to Asian markets. (Eagle Spirit Energy)

The chiefs behind the Eagle Spirit pipelines project have filed a request with the National Energy Board for guidance on how to proceed before making a formal application, given two bills that could put the project in jeopardy.

The corridor of four pipelines, which would run from Fort McMurray, Alta., to Prince Rupert in northern B.C., would ship an estimated four million barrels of crude oil and more than 283 million cubic metres of natural gas each day.

Calvin Helin, president of Eagle Spirit Energy, said it's an enormous project — six times bigger than the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion — and the only First Nations-led project of its kind.

"This project is basically supported by 35 First Nations, and there will be more, and the Métis community will be coming on side with us as well. We have, as of yesterday, secured our initial capital to move forward to the NEB application process," he said.

But, he says two recent bills, C-69 and C-48, could stand in the project's way.

The first overhauls the environmental review process while the second bans tanker traffic to northern B.C.

"It's a good time to be talking about new pipeline proposals," said Warren Mabee, director of the Queen's Institute for Energy.

"I think that this group is really hoping to get some clarity from this government or to signal to the next government what they'd like to see in terms of legislation."

Mabee said the fact the project is Indigenous-led would presumably help it move more easily through the approval process, so C-48 is the larger barrier.

"If they can't get tanker access, then, really, this project won't go anywhere." 

Helin says the group is looking for an exemption to the tanker-ban bill, but if that doesn't happen they plan to use a nearby port in Alaska.

The National Energy Board said pre-application meetings are one of the options it offers to give more information on the application process, and that it doesn't yet know the timeline for the project. 

With files from Jennifer Lee

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