CALGARY — Opponents of the Coastal GasLink pipeline's planned route have brought rail traffic to a standstill with blockades in support of five Wet'suwet'en hereditary clan chiefs in B.C. who say it cannot proceed without their consent. Here's a look at the project at the heart of an issue that has divided the country.
The 670-kilometre pipeline is a key component of the $40-billion LNG Canada project which will liquefy and export up to 14 million tonnes per year of LNG to Asian markets. The pipeline would deliver natural gas from northeastern British Columbia to a terminal near Kitimat, B.C. LNG Canada selected TC Energy Corp. (then called TransCanada) to build, own and operate Coastal GasLink in 2012. When LNG Canada was approved to be built by its ownership group — Royal Dutch Shell, Malaysian-owned Petronas, PetroChina, Japan's Mitsubishi and Korea Gas Corp. — in October 2018, the $6.6-billion pipeline was also given the go-ahead.
In mid-February, 46 per cent of the pipeline route had been cleared and over 1,200 people were working on the project, the company says. In addition to burying pipe, construction includes establishing storage and staging sites and building lodges to house about 2,500 workers. On the ownership side, Alberta Investment Management Corp., which looks after more than $115 billion in public sector pension funds, in December agreed with American partner KKR to form a consortium to buy a 65 per cent interest in the project. The deal is scheduled to close in the first half of 2020.
Some obvservers have suggested adjusting the pipeline route to avoid Wet’suwet’en lands. But Coastal GasLink says the current, B.C. government-approved route is the best of several alternatives it studied between 2012 and 2014 in a process that included consultations with First Nations. An alternative suggested by the Wet’suwet’en that would follow the existing Pacific Northern Gas pipeline would require eight more major river crossings, add about 80 kilometres of environmental disturbance, cost $600 million to $800 million more and result in a one-year delay that could impact the viability of the entire LNG Canada project, the company says.
The pipeline has support from 20 elected band councils along the route. All of them have signed benefit agreements with Coastal GasLink. TC Energy has committed to provide the supporting First Nations with an option to buy a 10 per cent equity interest in the pipeline.
Five Wet'suwet'en hereditary clan chiefs say the pipeline cannot proceed without their consent. They say they have authority over 22,000 square kilometres of traditional territory that the pipeline would partially cross, while the elected band councils only administer smaller reserves.
LNG Canada says the project will reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by up to 90 million tonnes per year by displacing coal- and diesel-fuelled generation with cleaner burning natural gas. Opponents, however, say the project itself will add to Canada's GHG emissions and will encourage more production using hydraulic fracturing or fracking, the injection of liquids and chemicals under high pressure to break up tight rock underground to free the gas. Fracking has been linked to minor earthquakes and drinking water contamination.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 20, 2020.
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