News

First Nation challenge to B.C. pipeline

By James Keller, The Canadian Press

NORTH VANCOUVER, B.C. - A British Columbia First Nation is turning to the courts in an attempt to delay — and ultimately stop — a controversial pipeline project that will run through its traditional territory.

The Tsleil-Waututh Nation is targeting the National Energy Board's review of Kinder Morgan's proposed expansion of its Trans Mountain pipeline, which would nearly triple the capacity of an existing pipeline that runs to the Vancouver area from Alberta's oil sands.

The energy board plans to start its review of the project in August, hearing from more than 1,000 people, groups and communities, roughly 400 of which will be considered official interveners. The board is set to hear aboriginal evidence this fall, with wider hearings scheduled to begin next January.

But the Tsleil-Waututh's legal challenge, which was expected to be filed with the Federal Court of Appeal on Friday, alleges the federal government and the energy board both failed to adequately consult the band before setting the terms of the review.

While the band's appeal, if successful, could force the National Energy Board to rewrite the terms of the review, Tsleil-Waututh leaders made it clear on Friday their ultimate goal is to shut down the project altogether.

Rueben George, who is spearheading the band's opposition to the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion under the banner of the Sacred Trust Initiative, said the National Energy Board review process is one-sided and designed to ensure projects are approved.

If the review was improved to properly consider the interests of First Nations people, George argued, the board would have little choice but to reject the pipeline.

"It's a flawed process and an unjust process," George told a news conference on the shores of North Vancouver, across the Burrard Inlet from Kinder Morgan's oil terminal in Burnaby.

"We believe that if it was fair and they included Canadian people and the First Nations people, it (board's eventual decision) would come out different."

Tsleil-Waututh Chief Maureen Thomas said the band hopes to delay the project long enough to galvanize other First Nations and the public to oppose it.

The federal Justice Department said the government hadn't yet received the lawsuit. The National Energy Board declined to comment on a case that will be before the courts.

A spokesperson for Kinder Morgan wasn't immediately available.

Texas-based Kinder Morgan's $5.4-billion pipeline expansion would leave it with the capacity to transport up to 890,000 barrels of Alberta oil per day to the company's terminal in Burnaby. Currently, the pipeline's daily capacity is 300,000 barrels.

Opposition to the pipeline expansion has been growing since the company formally filed its National Energy Board application last December, with First Nations communities and environmental groups lining up against it.

Under the current timeline, the board has until July 2015 to complete its report and recommendations for the federal government. If approved, the company plans to have the expanded pipeline operational by late 2017.

The debate over the Kinder Morgan pipeline follows similar complaints levelled against Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline between the Alberta oil sands and Kitimat, on B.C.'s northern coast.

A federal review panel recommended Enbridge's $7-billion pipeline proposal be approved, subject to more than 200 conditions. The federal government is expected to announce a decision in June.

The Northern Gateway project is facing at least 10 lawsuits from a range of opponents including First Nations and environmental groups.

Last month, residents of Kitimat voted against Northern Gateway in a non-binding plebiscite.

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