Can First Nations communities and pipeline companies work together?

Did you know that more than 3.5 million hectares of land in Canada is First Nations land?  These reserve lands have been set aside under the Indian Act and treaty acts, and have historical, political, cultural and spiritual significance to First Nations people.

Transmission pipelines, in their role of delivering oil and gas products across the country, currently operate through some of these reserve lands. And there are new pipeline proposals underway with routes that are also planned to cross reserve lands.

So how do First Nations communities and pipeline operators work together to determine if and how these pipelines cross reserve land?

That question was at the heart of the first Pipeline Gridlock Conference held in Calgary from October 3 to 4.

From conversations to co-development

Recent news reports across the country indicate that many First Nations communities are against oil and gas development and/or pipeline projects. But the Pipeline Gridlock Conference demonstrated that those new reports don’t depict the opinions of all First Nations – in fact, many are pro-resource development.

The issue at hand is how the oil and gas sector can work together with First Nations in a way that’s beneficial for all. Through speeches and panel discussions, participants shared their ideas, experiences and visions for positive relationships moving forward.

Calgary’s mayor, Naheed Nenshi, addressed that resource development is something that affects every citizen in Canada, and is something we need to work together to make decisions on.

“These conversations aren’t about pipelines, market access or prosperity – they are about nation-building,” Nenshi said, adding. “We need to be sitting down in a way that’s about respect.”

That sentiment was echoed by the chairman of the Indian Resource Council, Dean Manywounds, who talked about the need for First Nations leaders to clearly and directly tackle the issues.

“We need to participate so we can move this country forward,” Manywounds said.

Chief Liz Logan of Fort Nelson First Nation shared the positive relationships her band has with ‘innovative’ producers through co-development.

Logan explained that co-development enables joint decision-making between Fort Nelson First Nation and the oil and gas operator. Co-development recognizes and supports the First Nation and it’s critical to protecting the land.

“We will protect [our land] and make sure you do things right – and we will hold you accountable,” Logan said, speaking to the audience, which was made up of Indigenous leaders and oil and gas industry representatives.

Balancing prosperity and sustainability

Protecting the environment and the future of First Nations people was a topic that was discussed at length. Chief Logan said that the youth are the future, and they want responsible resource development.

Joe Dion, president and CEO of Frog Lake Energy Resources Corp., told participants that the environment is incredibly important, but “let’s not get sidelined with the environmental issue and drop our piece of the pie.”

“We need to focus on our goal of lifting our people out of poverty – we owe them that responsibility,” he added, emphasizing that equity and revenue-sharing is the crux of the debate.

While the economic contributions of the oil and gas sector plays a large role in Canada’s prosperity, there’s a lot more to consider, said Chris Bloomer, president and CEO of the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association.

He said there are four ‘Ps’ that are driving the issues around the pipeline gridlock: politics, polarization, processes and policies – issues that sideline  what’s important for Canada to move forward.

But there are three ‘Ps’ that will drive us toward the solution:

  1. People – through collaboration and consensus
  2. Performance – by not compromising on the environment, safety and performance
  3. Prosperity – by being the best at our roles

But the solution ultimately starts with building trust between First Nations communities and the oil and gas industry.

“How do we build trust? We build trust by making sure safety, performance and the environment is non-negiotiable,” Bloomer said.

The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association represents Canada’s transmission pipeline companies who operate approximately 119,000 kilometres of pipelines in Canada. In 2015, these energy highways moved approximately 1.2 billion barrels of liquid petroleum products and 5.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Our members transport 97 per cent of Canada’s daily natural gas and onshore crude oil from producing regions to markets throughout North America.