In recent months there has been much debate and speculation around the viability of B.C.’s liquid natural gas industry.
The widespread slowdown of project approvals and financial investment decisions has come as a result of numerous challenges facing the industry. With a decline in market demand for LNG, criticisms surrounding regulatory processes, heightened climate-change considerations and a new focus on First Nations consultation and engagement — it’s apparent why the proposed projects are seeing delays.
Although the notable slowdown of the industry is not ideal, the increased time has led to many positive developments that should be celebrated and acknowledged. In particular, the time has allowed for greater, and more meaningful, First Nations consultation and engagement. One such example is the recent Lax Kw’alaams vote to continue engaging in talks regarding the Pacific Northwest (PNW) LNG project proposed for their territory.
The Lax Kw’alaams members have been divided about the project primarily due to the potential environmental impacts to sensitive salmon habitats that surround Lelu Island and Flora Bank, at the mouth of the Skeena River in northwestern B.C. Protection of these areas is of utmost concern as it could impact Lax Kw’alaams’ traditional way of life. Proper protection of these areas is key to any consideration for the PNW LNG Project. The Lax Kw’alaams band has experienced much internal disagreement over the proposed project; however, the recent majority vote in favour of continued talks with the province and the proponent shows a shift toward an openness to understand the potential impacts how they can be mitigated.
The concerted effort on the part of Lax Kw’alaams leadership to inform, engage and provide economic opportunities for their members is a prime example of the type of process that will lead to success for First Nations across our province. Any industry proponent looking to move forward with resource development projects must realize that working together with First Nations is the only way to proceed. This is a fact we can celebrate, but with it comes the responsibility for First Nations to adequately educate ourselves and our members about LNG and how the proposed projects could affect our territories. It is only then that our decisions can truly be informed.
Furthermore, the need for a balanced approach is without question. While we acknowledge that First Nations are stewards of the land, the concern for the environment is widespread among industry proponents and governments as well, and they are also doing their due diligence. It is only through participating in the assessment of these projects together that we can ensure the highest environmental standards will be applied. If these projects proceed, we also must fight to ensure our people have real and meaningful benefits flowing directly to our communities throughout the duration of the projects. Real solutions to complex issues can only be achieved through a committed dialogue with proponents, government and our members. The way we participate and make decisions will look different from community to community, and these fundamental issues of decision-making are not subject to outsiders’ positions.
As First Nations, it’s in our best interest to work together to find a way forward. The evaluation process of these opportunities will not look the same for each nation, but the determination to carefully consider each project through informed education, consultation and engagement, should. We can learn from each others’ successes and challenges, and apply those learnings to our own exploration. Coming together, with a strong unified voice across our province, will ensure that First Nations consultation and engagement is mandatory, crucial and beneficial to all British Columbians. The answer to every project may not be yes, but the answer to a continued process of dialogue on our terms should be.
By Karen Ogen-Toews, CEO