First Nations speak against oil pipeline expansion across Prairies

Derek Nepinak, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said his organization cannot support the plan due to a lack of consultation with treaty peoples.

Enbridge Pipelines Inc. is planning a $7.5 billion replacement and expansion of the pipeline

Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said his organization cannot support the Enbridge expansion plan due to a lack of consultation with treaty peoples. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

A group of First Nations elders is speaking out against a proposal by Enbridge to expand a pipeline across the Prairies.

Derek Nepinak, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said his organization cannot support the plan due to a lack of consultation with treaty peoples.

"I think what's been absent from the discussion is a depth of consultation that recognizes who the original people from these lands are," Nepinak said as he, along with other elders and leaders, spoke at a National Energy Board meeting in Winnipeg on Monday.

Enbridge Pipelines Inc. is planning a $7.5-billion replacement and expansion of its pipeline, which runs from Hardisty, Alta., across Saskatchewan and through Brandon and Gretna in Manitoba. The line continues into the U.S., running from Neche, North Dakota to Superior, Wisconsin. 

"It's part of our ongoing maintenance and safety program at Enbridge," said Todd Nogier, a spokesperson with the company.

"We have sought regulatory approval to replace Line 3 to ensure its safe and reliable operation going forward."

Enbridge also wants to increase the line's capacity from 390,000 barrels a day to 760,000 barrels a day, but Nogier said it's not about expansion, it's about safety.

"With a new line, we would seek to restore the original capacity of the line … For the last five years or so, we voluntarily and proactively reduced the throughput of the line to ensure its safe operation," he said.

"It will carry the same type of oil as it originally carried."

Enbridge is also facing opposition out west for another one if its projects, the Northern Gateway pipeline. The $7-billion line would carry bitumen from Alberta's oilsands to B.C.'s coast, passing through 40 First Nations territories along its 1,177-kilometre path.

Eight First Nations, four environmental groups and one union group presented their challenges to the Federal Court of Appeal last month, trying to have Ottawa's approval of the controversial project revoked. A decision has not yet been made.

"As part of the project, we've been meeting with something like 150 First Nations from as far as 200 kilometres from the right of way, so our engagement program is very robust," said Nogier.

"We're working with the communities to ensure that they understand that the measures we're putting in place to decommission the line are intended to reduce impacts on the environment, to reduce impacts on the land."

'Not going to work until we come to some kind of agreement'

"It doesn't matter how opposed I am to things. It's not going to work until we come to some kind of agreement, some kind of understanding," said Henry Skywater, an elder with the Birdtail Sioux Dakota Nation.

"That's all it takes, is some kind of understanding."

Nepinak said he hopes concerned First Nations will see a "favourable outcome" after the new Liberal government reviews the company's plans.

"A favourable outcome doesn't mean for us necessarily that the application is approved or not. It represents a more inclusive process or an opportunity for reconciliation to exist within these types of spaces," he said.

"I think what's happened is these applications have come forward without us being given the opportunity to have a full and complete understanding of what the implications are of Line 3 replacement," he added.

"How can you agree to something that you don't know the full scope of the issue for? And I don't think anybody knows the full scope."

Darin Barter, a spokesperson for the NEB, said the consultation and information from elders is vital in the process, they are about two weeks away from hearing final arguments.

The board will hear oral traditional evidence this week and next week in Calgary.

"We want to hear from them. We want to understand what the traditions are, what the beliefs are. We want to gather their wisdom and knowledge and bring that forward in the hearing process," said Barter. "There's no decisions that have been made at this point. We have to look at the scientific, the technical, the aboriginal evidence that has all been put forward to us."