VANCOUVER – First Nations and environmental groups are planning to file lawsuits Thursday against the federal government and Malaysian state-owned oil firm Petronas in an attempt to stop a liquefied natural gas project on British Columbia’s northern coast.
The $36-billion Pacific NorthWest LNG project which includes a pipeline and terminal proposed for Lelu Island near Prince Rupert, received conditional approval from the federal government last month.
Gitanyow Hereditary Chiefs and the Gitwilgyoots Tribe, which are filing separate lawsuits, want the Federal Court to rule that proper consultation with First Nations did not occur and that would reverse approval for the project.
Several elected bands in the area of the terminal have agreed to terms for the project, however chief negotiator of the Gitanyow Hereditary Chiefs Glen Williams said that isn’t enough.
“We’re not affiliated with bands, we’re the ones that have the proper rights and title,” Williams said. “There’s a process in consultation where if there is going to be any impact, the government has a duty to consult and also to accommodate the aboriginal interests.”
During the announcement for the project’s approval last month, B.C. Premier Christy Clark said the government had consulted First Nations, but that it wasn’t possible to please everyone.
“I think at some time, governments need to lead,” she told reporters.
A spokesperson for Pacific NorthWest LNG declined to comment on the lawsuits Wednesday.
Requests for comment made to the Federal Ministry of Environment were not immediately answered.
The lawsuits come after a Federal Court of Appeal judgment earlier this year blocked the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline in a ruling that said First Nations weren’t properly consulted.
They are confident in their case against Pacific NorthWest LNG, Williams said, and expect that the Enbridge suit will set a precedent.
“We don’t go to court lightly, we go to court to win,” he said.
Apart from the lack of consultation, the groups’ say there is also concern about the environment implications of the project.
Williams said the Lelu Island facility could have a severe impact on communities in the area by destroying habitat for local salmon stock.
“We’re quite concerned about food supply for future generations,” he said.
SkeenaWild Conservation Trust spokesman Greg Knox said conditions imposed by the federal government don’t come close to addressing the environmental concerns of the First Nations.
“This particular project will be built over top of probably some of the most sensitive and important salmon habitat in Canada,” Knox said.
A lawsuit also being filed Thursday by SkeenaWild argues environmental assessment data provided by Petronas are “incorrect and unfounded,” Knox said.
Independent studies by scientists have shown the effects on the salmon habitat will be significant, Knox said.
More than 200 scientists and salmon experts have written letters to the federal government this year asking the government to reject the project because of severe consequences.
SkeenaWild is also questioning whether the Environment Ministry’s assessment process was thoroughly followed.
Knox said his organization will be revealing that a study of the cumulative impact of greenhouse gas emissions from the site wasn’t conducted, a requirement of the environmental assessment agency.
“We have evidence showing that the Canadian environmental assessment agency failed to provide the federal government, both the ministry and cabinet, adequate information to make an informed decision,” he said.
The conditions of approval state that the project is expected to ship 19 million tonnes of liquefied gas to Asian markets annually and will emit up to 4.3 million tonnes of greenhouse gasses each year.