A backlash is growing among liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry supporters to the challenge by a Smithers resident that a planned natural gas pipeline should fall under federal jurisdiction.
Although the planned TransCanada Coastal GasLink pipeline, which would feed the proposed LNG Canada plant in Kitimat has received provincial environmental clearance, Michael Sawyer, among other reasons, is arguing that because the super-cooled natural gas would be exported, the pipeline also needs to be examined by the federal National Energy Board.
But LNG supporters are worried that should Sawyer’s challenge be successful, a federal review of the pipeline project will unnecessarily delay a decision by LNG Canada’s Joint Venture Partners (JVPs) to approve its construction, something the JVPs are expected to do later this year.
Kitimat LNG supporters gathered at Skeena Liberal MLA Ellis Ross’ Kitimat office on Wednesday, August 8 to discuss how they could counter Sawyer’s challenge, a session that has now contributed to a campaign by the lobby and education group BC LNG Alliance (BCLNGA) to demonstrate support for the LNG industry.
BCLNGA is creating a specific website to gather and post messages from individuals who favour LNG and, in particular, the LNG project valued at $36 billion.
Ross has joined in, appealing to B.C. Premier John Horgan to defend B.C.’s environmental approval of the Coastal GasLink project which would deliver natural gas from northeastern B.C. to Kitimat. (Read his letter)
“After a very long and rigorous environmental review that has resulted in sharing agreements with 95 per cent of First Nations, investors with LNG Canada are expected to make a final decision in the near future,” said Ross.
“Now we have pipeline opponents trying to throw every roadblock they can in front of the process.”
Also speaking out is Kitimat resident David Johnston, a key participant in The North Matters, a group founded in Kitimat to promote the LNG industry and which has held rallies in that community and other northwest locations.
He’s written a letter to Skeena – Bulkley Valley NDP MP Nathan Cullen, asking him to “denounce Sawyer” as it would “help our cause and efforts to bring these thousands of [LNG] jobs to the region.”
But Cullen, who supports the LNG Canada project, has so far declined to denounce Sawyer.
Speaking last week, Cullen acknowledged that the timing of Sawyer’s challenge is “difficult” given the expectation LNG Canada’s JVPs are coming closer to deciding to build.
But “we’re a country of laws and he has a legal right to challenge the permit,” said Cullen of Sawyer.
“In a country of laws you don’t get to pick and choose which ones you support and which you don’t,” he added.
The MP said he understood the position of LNG supporters opposing Sawyer’s challenge but said it’s important to remain calm.
“There is no need to panic,” Cullen added.
In response, Johnston said he wants Cullen to be more vocal in his support of the LNG Canada project, adding that the MP is “sitting on the fence when it comes to commenting on Sawyer’s challenge.”
“He’s said he’s on board, that he’s committed to LNG Canada, but he’s not done anything to stand up for it,” Johnston said.
Frustrated supporters of the project at Wednesday’s meeting proposed a number of responses to Sawyer’s petition to the courts, including picketing peacefully outside Sawyer’s Smithers office, asking businesses and the local chamber of commerce in Smithers to pressure Sawyer to drop his legal challenge of the proposed pipeline.
Ross said, however, he would not support any of the proposals, choosing instead to appeal to the hearts and minds of British Columbians to overwhelmingly support the project and to put pressure on the provincial and federal governments instead.
“You’re not up against a loony environmentalist here. What this guy did is brilliant. He’s not challenging B.C. He’s using a loophole in the Endangered Species Act to challenge the pipeline,” said Ross, adding that the Act is a very powerful piece of legislation.
Ross added that while it was unlikely that Sawyer cares about the caribou, he had identified a crucial loophole to exploit.
“Nobody here has a say,” said Ross to those gathered at the meeting. “This is about the pipeline versus the caribou – the judges aren’t even going to look at us.”
He stressed that organizing protests would be extremely counterproductive.
“Protesting is wrong. People are tired of protests – Site C, Kinder Morgan. Instead, we should look at putting pressure on politicians ahead of the municipal and federal elections,” said Ross, cautioning against “waking up the environmentalists in Smithers”.
He suggested instead that supporters of the project put pressure on politicians through online petitions and working with interested and affected groups like the Haisla Nation Council.
He said there were a number of BC Liberal MLAs privately backing Ross in his campaign to further LNG development in B.C.
“I have 20 BC Liberals backing me. The Shuswap MLAs are also upset,” said Ross.
He said another option would be to apply for intervener status on behalf of the province in the legal battle.
Intervener status is granted by the court when for example a case with the potential to affect First Nations’ title, rights, and interests is proceeding before a court, tribunal or board.
Ross said while the intervener route was a good way of having input on the legal case, a lot of applicants are denied by B.C. courts.
He said the Haisla Nation Council would be one of the groups he would encourage to apply for intervener status.
Meanwhile, senior TransCanada official Karl Johannson said the company is confident in the provincial approval for Coastal GasLink.
“So, although we will be obviously an interested party in any National Energy Board jurisdictional process, we consider that we have good and valid permits right now from the proper regulatory agency and we’re ready to go,” said Johannson.