A final investment decision has yet to be made for Chevron's Kitimat LNG project, but that hasn't stopped the company from getting work started on clearing the way for the Pacific Trail Pipeline over the summer, despite fervent opposition from First Nations Hereditary Chiefs along the proposed route.
Chevron will be establishing a field office in Houston, BC for the summer to carry out pre-construction activities for the proposed pipeline that would run 480 kilometres between Summit Lake, near Prince George and Kitimat, transporting liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the province's shale gas operations to a port on the west coast.
The company received approval for the pre-construction activities from the BC Oil and Gas Commission in April. The temporary office will serve as headquarters for contractors doing environmental and archaeological field studies, road maintenance, clearing right of ways, and surveying and flagging boundaries.
Chevron spokespeople say they have the "full support" of First Nations to get started.
"The Pacific Trail Pipeline is the only proposed natural gas pipeline project with the support of all First Nations Bands whose traditional territory encompasses the proposed Pacific Trail Pipeline route," said Gillian Robinson of Chevron-Kitimat LNG.
According to the company, the pre-construction work will be carried out by a First Nations–owned company, Shas PTP Ltd., which was previously contracted to build access roads and clear the way for the western section of the pipeline over the last two summers.
"First Nations are not only involved, but are partners in the Pacific Trail Pipeline," Robinson told VICE. "They are supportive of this work beginning in order to see the benefits of the First Nations Limited Partnership Agreement. This agreement is unique in that it does not affect First Nations Rights and Title but is a business partnership with benefits that continue throughout the lifetime of the project."
While the Pacific Trail Pipeline is unique in that it has a limited partnership agreement supplying benefits to 16 First Nations signatories, that support does not stretch everywhere along the pipeline route, according to dissenting First Nations.
The Wet'suwet'en, who have traditional government model of clans and houses with Hereditary Chiefs, say they will do whatever it takes to stop the pipeline from being built across their traditional territory.
"We have stated many times before, we will use any and all means necessary to protect our lands, whether it be through the courts or like people who are presently on the territory living on that pipeline route who stand in opposition to those pipelines," said Dinï ze' Na'Moks, or John Ridsdale, Hereditary Chief of the Tsayu (Beaver) Clan. "As per our law, we have the right to protect our territory as we see fit."
The proposed pipeline route crosses BC's two largest rivers, the Fraser and the Skeena, both major spawning areas that provide water and salmon essential to Wet'suwet'en way of life, Ridsdale said.
"We have a responsibility to ensure those rivers remain clean," he said. "Whether it be natural gas or oil, any construction along those rivers are a detriment to the river itself, and affects our rights and freedoms to access our territories, because we'd be restricted by the construction. If actually constructed, they would control the access; they'd have the pipeline, their own roads and, for liability reasons, people like ourselves would not be allowed to cross."
While the Wet'suwet'en are not "opposed to progress," Ridsdale said the chiefs have a responsibility to protect the integrity of the land and quality of life for future generations, and to consider the impacts of their decisions on peoples elsewhere, like the Haida and Heiltsuk Nations along the coast, who would be impacted by tanker traffic and possible marine spills, and First Nations in northeastern BC where the LNG would come from.
"Any decisions we make affect everybody upstream, downstream and all around us," Ridsdale said. "For hereditary chiefs, we don't look at the dollar figure. We have to look at now, we have to look at tomorrow and we have to look at a hundred years from now, what are we leaving behind as a legacy? Will it be a fractured land? Will it be a loss of our authority on the land? Will our culture be dissipated? We can't allow that, not in our lifetimes."
Ridsdale said the 16 First Nations in a limited partnership with Chevron are elected band councils who do not have jurisdiction off their reserve lands. The traditional Wet'suwet'en government, on the other hand, exists on unceded land, having never signed a treaty with the Crown, and therefore holds true jurisdiction over the area, he said.
Since signing the agreement, some of the First Nations have changed their tune on LNG development. Some of the 16 First Nations are not based along the pipeline route.
Supreme Court decisions have recognized the authority of Hereditary Chiefs and indigenous title over unceded territories, including the most recent precedent-setting victory by the neighbouring Tsilhqot'in Nation. Ridsdale said the Wet'suwet'en will take the pipeline to court if required, but discredited the work happening this summer as company "propaganda" for investors.
"They're doing a media blitz and saying things are a go when in actual fact, they're not," he said. "We are in strong opposition to the route they've chosen and we have Tsilhqot'in and non-Tsilhqot'in people on our side."
The Kitimat LNG facility received environmental approval in 2006 and has obtained an export licence, while the pipeline received regulatory approval in 2008. Still, there has been no commitment from overseas LNG customers that would allow the $4.5-billion project to get off the ground.
"A Final Investment Decision for Kitimat LNG is still contingent on completion of the project's Front End Engineering and Design (FEED) to gain greater project cost and execution certainty, establishing a clear, competitive and stable fiscal framework with Government, gaining additional First Nations support and having LNG contracts in place," Robinson said.
The eventuality of the project was thrown into uncertainty last summer when 50 percent partner Apache—who was to produce the LNG for the project—pulled out, highlighting global gas market uncertainty. Woodside Petroleum purchased Apache's stake in December 2014, adding some financial stability to the project.
If green-lit, the pipeline and LNG facility would transport 10 million tonnes of LNG each year, mainly to Asia. The gas would be sourced in the Liard and Horn River basins in the northeastern corner of BC where extensive hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, operations are underway.
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