Flurry of pro-pipeline Indigenous voices show up on Twitter feeds just as Royal Dutch Shell faces financial predicament

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      A social media campaign is trying to counter a growing Canadian rebellion supporting anti-pipeline hereditary Wet'suwet'en chiefs.

      Comments from Wet'suwet'en people in favour of the $6.6-billion Coastal GasLink project are even getting a financial boost over Twitter.

      That increases the likelihood that they'll show up in people's feeds and conveys an impression of a major fight within the Wet'suwet'en Nation.

      Some of these tweets are being promoted by Canada Action, a nonprofit oil and gas industry advocacy group.

      For example, Helen Michelle, a hereditary chief of the Skin Tyee First Nation, declares in one widely circulated video that she doesn't know why some Wet'suwet'en people are protesting the pipeline project.

      However, the hereditary chief of the Laksamshu clan, Dini Ze Smogelgem, declared in 2018 that Michelle was an elected chief who had signed deals with Coastal GasLink Pipeline Ltd.

      Moreover, Smogelgem stated that Michelle claimed to be a hereditary chief after having "never actually followed protocol to assume the name in front of other hereditary chiefs in a Wet'suwet'en Feast Hall".

      The Gidimt'en Checkpoint Twitter account has also tried to diminish the impact of Michelle's remarks by noting that the Skin Tyee band is not located anywhere near the pipeline route. The band's government is based near François Lake west of Prince George.

      Canada Action also distributed messages by B.C. Liberal MLA Ellis Ross, a former elected chief of the Haisla Nation, urging Indigenous people who support the pipeline to speak out.

      The Haisla elected council supports the LNG Canada project, which will be built on its territory, as well as the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

      Proponents say these two projects will yield more than $1 billion in benefits to Indigenous businesses and workers.

      In addition to Michelle's comments, Coastal GasLink is also tweeting out emotional videotaped messages from its Wet'suwet'en supporters, as well as from its Indigenous employees and contractors. Below are two such examples.

      They're being countered by sophisticated videos from supporters of the hereditary chiefs who oppose the pipeline. 

      Some Wet'suwet'en people who back hereditary chiefs, along with their supporters, have also tried to counter RCMP messages suggesting there's a real fear of violence.

      LNG shipments refused in China

      The effect of all of this back and forth may leave some non-Indigenous people confused, including those in the media. That's sometimes the objective of public-relations campaigns.

      Over time, this can marginalize those who are demanding an end to a multibillion-dollar fossil-fuel project as some media managers conclude that there is a huge number of people in favour.

      But in this instance, there appears to be enough support for the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs from other Indigenous people in Canada to keep the pressure on.

      The opponents are being helped by what's happening internationally.

      The spot price of LNG in Asia fell to US$2.95 per million British thermal units by the end of last week—a record low, due in part to a warmer than expected winter and the coronavirus outbreak.

      Consulting companies such as Ernst & Young and the Brattle Group have suggested that proponents will need prices nearly four times as high to turn a profit with their new LNG projects in North America.

      What's worse for these proponents is a new article on the Oilandgaspeople.com website.

      It reported on Monday (February 10) that China National Offshore Oil Corp. isn't even honouring some LNG contracts.

      The Chinese state-owned company invoked a "force majeure" clause allowing it to back out without consequences because of reasons beyond its control—i.e. the coronavirus.

      "Even before Chinese buyers walked away from supply contracts, spot prices have fallen to a record low, crippling the profitability of energy giants like Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Exxon Mobil Corp.," the publication noted.

      Royal Dutch Shell is the largest investor in the LNG Canada plant and it's been heralded as one of the great dividend stocks of all time. But it's going ex-dividend for investors who buy shares on or after February 13, according to Simply Wall St.

      "Earnings per share have been shrinking in recent times," it stated in a recent evaluation of the company. "Additionally, Royal Dutch Shell is paying out quite a high percentage of its earnings, and more than half its cash flow, so it's hard to evaluate whether the company is reinvesting enough in its business to improve its situation. It's not the most attractive proposition from a dividend perspective, and we'd probably give this one a miss for now."

      Bloomberg's chief energy correspondent, Javier Blas, also coauthored a damning analysis near the end of January.

      As taxpayers have seen with the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, time is money in the energy business. 

      That project was initially pegged at $5.4 billion in 2011 before rising to $6.8 billion in 2015, then $7.4 billion in 2017, then $9.3 billion in 2019, and most recently, $12.6 billion. Delays caused by court challenges add to the price tag.

      There have been similar cost escalations on the Site C dam, initially estimated at between $5 billion and $6.6 billion in 2009. It's since risen to $7.9 billion, $8.8 billion, and in December 2017, to $10.7 billion.

      The longer this LNG Canada project and the Coastal GasLink pipeline are dragged out, the more it's going to cost these companies. 

      Given the state of international energy markets, who knows whether they will be able to afford to stay in the game until the very end. Unlike governments that are financing the Site C and Trans Mountain projects, the LNG Canada and Coastal GasLink backers have to answer to shareholders.

      No wonder Coastal GasLink was so eager to obtain an injunction in B.C. Supreme Court.

      This could also explain its mighty efforts to get its story out over social media this month.