Meet the Gateway pipeline's most formidable opponent

CTV reports the Haisla First Nation presents a complex challenge to backers of the $5.5 billion Gateway pipeline project that would stretch for 1,170km from Brudenheim in Alberta to Kitimat in northern British Columbia.

The pipeline, which has extensive backing from Chinese interestes, will have the capacity to export approximately 525,000 barrels of oil per day and import approximately 193,000 barrels of condensate a day to a new marine terminal where up to 200 tankers per year would carry crude to market in China, Singapore and Korea.

Public hearings on the pipeline where an unprecedented 4,000-plus people – the vast majority environmental activists – will speak for a collective 650 hours, kicked off on Tuesday at the Haisla community centre after being moved from Kitimat to help elders of the First Nation to attend.

CTV reports the business-savvy Haisla have reached far-reaching deals over jobs and benefits with Rio Tinto Alcan and with Apache Corp which is building a $5 billion LNG export plant:

The constitutional question of aboriginal rights and title looms over the Gateway proceedings, above the contentious issues of market access for oil and the environment. Gateway would be built on B.C. land never ceded to Canada by treaty, and legal precedents appear to support the position of first nations against Gateway.

Opponents of the pipeline are being characterized in some circles as broadly anti-development, or as puppets of the U.S. environmental movement. But the Haisla have embraced and profited from industry, particularly liquefied natural gas (LNG), which has already generated more than $60-million for the 1,500-person first nation.

Haisla First Nation's business dealings – whether Gateway goes ahead or not – have already had a massive impact on Kitimat and a lot has changed in the town of 9,000 inhabitants since it first lobbied to have Enbridge's terminate the pipeline there in stead of Prince Rupert, the Financial Post reports:

Kitimat, surrounded by mountains at the end of Douglas Channel, has been picked by major energy players to house a handful of terminals to transport natural gas in liquid form to Asia. If all goes ahead, it would become a major Canadian energy export point, stirring debate about how much activity and tanker traffic it can handle.

“We have a deep sea port, but it’s not (an invitation for) everybody come and jump in,” Ms. Parsons [executive director of the Kitimat Chamber of Commerce] said.

Bloomberg reports the pipeline will cross some 700 streams through one of the world’s largest temperate rainforests and Haisla leaders this week told a panel appointed by the national energy regulator about the importance of local fish, plant and animal species used for food throughout their 2,000-year history:

“It worries me to think all these will be lost when there is a spill,” Robinson [a Haisla First Nation hereditary chief] told the panel. “And mark my words, there will be a spill.”

MINING.com reported in December the first cracks in Gateway opposition may have appeared after the Gitxsan First Nation announced it’s backing the pipeline. Chief Elmer Derrick said the hereditary chiefs of the Gitxsan have accepted Enbridge’s offer of an equity stake and expects the deal will provide at least $7 million of net profit to his people.

Canadian Business spoke to Derrick, who some say has been in hiding since accepting Enbridge's offer and whose face appear on posters questioning his authority up across northwest BC, on Sunday:

"From what I can find out, I believe that I think an offer was made to at least 40 different nations in Alberta and B.C. and from what I've been told, at least 25 nations have signed the agreement," Derrick said.