Environment & Energy Report

Indigenous Pipeline Opponents Seek Court OK for Blockade Protest (Corrected)

June 10, 2019, 10:01 AMUpdated: June 11, 2019, 4:13 PM

A First Nation in northern British Columbia will seek June 10 to quash orders preventing them from blockading a natural gas pipeline seen as crucial to Canada’s nascent liquefied natural gas sector.

Members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation will ask the the Supreme Court of British Columbia in Prince George to reverse a temporary injunction that allows Calgary-based TC Energy Corp. to proceed with construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police broke up a blockade of First Nations members and their supporters Jan. 7 on a remote logging road after the orders were made in December.

The national police force made over a dozen arrests, but those criminal charges later dropped.

‘Unprecedented Support’

TC Energy, which until recently was known as TransCanada Corp., wants the orders made permanent.

“There is unprecedented support for this important natural gas pipeline project from local and Indigenous communities along the route,” Suzanne Wilton, a spokesperson for TC Energy-owned Coastal GasLink Pipeline Ltd., said in an email June 7. “The continuance of the injunction will ensure continued safe and unimpeded access.”

The Office of the Wet’suwet’en didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Coastal GasLink pipeline would take natural gas from northeastern British Columbia and send it to a liquefied natural gas export facility planned for the city of Kitimat on the Pacific coast.

Big Project

The C$40 billion ($30.1 billion) export facility is the largest single private investment project in Canadian history.

LNG Canada is a group of global petroleum companies led by Royal Dutch Shell Plc.

British Columbia, Alberta, and the federal government are pinning their hopes on a revenue boost from natural gas exports.

Canada is also exploring the possibility of counting liquefied natural gas exports against the country’s international obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions because the exports could replace coal use in other countries, Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi has said.

The Wet’suwet’en Nation opposes Coastal GasLink because of environmental concerns, and the pipeline’s representatives have tried to subvert its authority by engaging with indigenous organizations that do not represent Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, the First Nation said in a February court filing.

TC Energy has conditionally awarded C$620 million in contracts to indigenous communities along the pipeline’s route and expect another C$400 million in contracts and jobs during construction, the company said last year.


The Wet’suwet’en Nation, whose traditional territory spans a 22,000-square-kilometer (8,500-square-mile) area, has a long history of defending its lands through the courts.

It was one of two First Nations involved in a pivotal 1997 Supreme Court of Canada decision that created a substantive definition of aboriginal land title rights in Canadian jurisprudence.

Wet’suwet’en chiefs and British Columbia announced a new round of talks Feb. 7 aimed at reconciling each jurisdiction’s respective laws.

The British Columbia Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The National Energy Board, Canada’s regulator for large energy projects, is deliberating over a separate legal challenge to Coastal GasLink.

An environmental consultant who has successfully won changes to other pipeline applications said during hearings in May that the board should have been involved in Coastal GasLink’s approval, instead of only British Columbia’s regulatory bodies.

Mike Sawyer of Smithers, British Columbia, argues the pipeline will be used to move natural gas across provincial borders, putting it under the board’s jurisdiction, a charge TC Energy denies.

(Corrects name of Wet'suwet'en Nation in 2nd, 13th, and 15th paragraphs.)

To contact the reporter on this story: James Munson in Toronto at correspondents@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloombergenvironment.com

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