In Canada, Aboriginal Group Rejects $1.5 Billion Paycheck From Natural Gas Producers

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A small Canadian Aboriginal community recently rejected a $1.5 billion payment that would have allowed the construction of a natural gas pipeline through the group’s lands, marking yet another setback for the Canadian energy industry’s efforts to increase fossil fuel exports.

According to the New York Times, a group led by Malaysian energy company Petronas made the offer to the Lax Kw’alaams Band community in hopes of building a pipeline terminus and liquefied natural gas ship terminal near their remote village, located on Lelu Island in British Columbia.

The Lax Kw’alaams Band, which has a population of about 3,600 people, has consistently rejected offers relating to Pacific NorthWest LNG’s $36 billion pipeline and gas drilling project. The community cites concerns over the project’s potential environmental impact, particularly its harmful effects on local salmon habitats.

“Hopefully, the public will recognize that unanimous consensus in communities (and where unanimity is the exception) against a project where those communities are offered in excess of a billion dollars, sends an unequivocal message this is not a money issue: This is environmental and cultural,” Garry Reece, mayor of the band, said in a statement that announced its vote.

The band’s rejection isn’t the only time when Canada’s hope of boosting gas exports has run into a roadblock. The future of the much-publicized Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport oil sands from Canada down to the Gulf of Mexico, remains in limbo as U.S. politicians debate the project in Washington. Another oil sands pipeline in British Columbia is facing resistance from aboriginal groups as well.

Currently, there are enough oil and natural gas reserves on hand to meet another 53.3 years of worldwide production, and much of these reserves are found throughout Canada.

About 10 years ago, Canada’s Supreme Court ruled that native groups must be consulted and accommodated when oil and gas projects infringe on their lands.

While the Court didn’t explicitly state that energy companies need Aboriginal consent, it’s highly unlikely that Pacific NorthWest LNG would move forward with its project without the permission of the Lax Kw’alaams Band. Doing this would likely incite civil unrest and litigation against the group, the New York Times reports.

Michael Culbert, the president of Pacific NorthWest, said in a statement that the group continues to work with Aboriginal and native groups to alleviate their concerns, and the group will “continue to assess the viability of the project.”

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