An email sent by the president of Kinder Morgan Canada to the B.C. premier’s office reveals in frank language the challenge for oil companies posed by First Nations opposing pipeline projects.
“The existing Trans Mountain pipeline crosses fifteen Indian Reserves in BC and traverses the traditional territory of many more,” reads a letter by Ian Anderson dated August 10, 2012. “Increasingly, our operations are affected by the many and complicated issues surrounding Aboriginal rights and title.”
It continues: “Liquefied petroleum pipelines such as Trans Mountain…have the added responsibility of addressing environmental risk of oil spill. These are not easy issues to resolve and, in some cases, may not be able to be resolved…despite our best efforts it is possible that we will not have agreements with all those affected.”
The email was published online by the provincial government in accordance with access-to-information legislation. Kinder Morgan Canada did not respond to a request for an interview.
The energy company is seeking approval to twin its Trans Mountain pipeline, which would triple the amount of diluted bitumen it transports from Alberta’s tarsands to the Lower Mainland.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, told the Straight that the email strikes a very different tone from what Kinder Morgan is saying publicly about the Trans Mountain expansion.
“This is the first time that I have heard them acknowledge the reality of the constitutional and legal rights of indigenous peoples,” Phillip said.
Matthew Kirchner is a North Vancouver–based lawyer representing the Coldwater Indian Band in a dispute related to the pipeline expansion. He told the Straight that if Kinder Morgan fails to reach agreements with First Nations, the company will be left with two options. Kinder Morgan could amend its plans to go around areas where agreements could not be reached, or it could request that the federal government expropriate reserve land without the consent of First Nations.
“That’s never happened, at least not since the Indian Act was substantially revised in 1950,” Kirchner added. “But if a First Nation says no, then I don’t see any other option.…It would be extraordinary if they [the federal government] are willing to throw out decades of policy under the Indian Act to satisfy Kinder Morgan at the expense of First Nations.”
Phillip said that any move in the direction of land expropriation would be a “powder keg”.
“That would represent a very definite flashpoint on the whole issue of pipelines if they attempted to do that,” he emphasized.