BY BILL PHILLIPS
The Lheidli T’enneh First Nation is seeking a court injunction to halt the flow of natural gas through its traditional territory and, consequently, to the majority of the province.
On October 9 an Enbridge-owned 36-inch natural gas pipeline exploded near Shelley, prompting the evacuation of about 100 residents of Lheidli T’enneh. A second 30-inch pipeline was shut down as a precaution.
The Lheidli T’enneh filed suit against Enbridge and Westcoast Energy this morning seeking a pre-trail injunction to stop the company from operating pipelines in Lheidli T’enneh traditional territory and reserves, a permanent injunction halting operation of the pipeline, and an order to have the pipeline removed and the land returned to its natural state.
“Every Canadian, every aboriginal community that lives on down the line is not safe,” said Chief Dominic Frederick about the possibility of halting the flow of natural gas to the province. “It’s about the lives of people from Canada and aboriginal communities that live close to the pipeline. They’ve repaired one part of the pipeline that exploded, but they haven’t informed us that the rest of it is good. It could happen anywhere.”
Enbridge says shutting down the pipeline would affect millions of people.
“It is not in the public interest to stop operating a critical piece of energy infrastructure that millions of people in B.C. and the U.S. Pacific Northwest rely on every day,” the company said in a statement posted to its website. “… The gas transported by this system is used to heat homes, hospitals, businesses and schools. It is also used as a fuel for electric power generation and is a staple in a number of industrial and manufacturing processes that produce products that improve our lives.”
The Lhedli T’enneh say the response they have received from Enbridge following the blast has been inadequate and that people in the community were traumatized by the blast, which created a crater about 100 yards long and 25 yards wide.
“We are not opposed to industrial activity and the energy sector,” said Frederick. “But we are opposed to the unsafe transfer of hydrocarbons … Our lives should not be afterthoughts to corporate profit-making and shareholder dictates. Our lives matter. We demand to be respected.”
Even though governments are now endorsing the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Frederick accused Enbridge of acting like it was pre-1982, before aboriginal rights were enshrined in the Canadian Constitution.
“Enbridge has been very disrespectful in dealing with us since the explosion,” Frederick said. “Enbridge has chosen to work closely the National Energy Board and the Transportation Safety Board, but not with us. Enbridge apparently does not realize that we are Section 35 (of the Canadian Constitution) title holders, not bystanders.”
He said once the pipeline was repaired, Enbridge increased the flow of gas through the pipeline without the consent of the Lheidli T’enneh.
Enbridge acknowledges that it is cooperating with the Transportation Safety Board, which is the lead investigator for the explosion, but disagrees with the assessment the Lheidli T’enneh have been left out of the loop.
“The Lheidli T’enneh First Nation has been involved in the post-incident review process,” the company said in the statement. “A post-incident debriefing session on the emergency response on Nov. 21 involved multiple agencies, including the National Energy Board, emergency response services, Enbridge and leadership of the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation … We notified the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation of the pipeline incident within nine minutes and immediately began to provide the community with support. The next day, Enbridge representatives participated at a community meeting to provide additional information. We have included members of the First Nation on a flyover of the incident site, participated in two council meetings, and provided numerous updates to the community.”
CEO Al Monaco has been in personal contact with Frederick for a one-on-one meeting, says the company.
Frederick said the reality, on the ground October 9, was that there was not an adequate response.
“It was clear to us that Enbridge cared more about people in Vancouver going without heat than it cared about the safety and the welfare of our members living close to the explosion site,” he said.
In addition to the injunctions, the Lheidli T’enneh are seeking damages for nuisance, trespass and negligence; special damages; a declaration that the Lheidli T’enneh has not been adequately consulted; equitable compensation; punitive damages; aggravated or exemplary damages; interest; and special costs.
“There was great impact and there needs to be a respectful conversation,” said Malcolm Macpherson, the band’s lawyer. “This is about human safety … the emergency response, basically didn’t exist … The community is justifiably upset that the standard just isn’t there with Enbridge.”
While the band is calling on the pipeline to be re-routed around Lheidli T’enneh territory, the door nothing is off the table.
“If parties talk to each other and treat each other with respect, there’s a solution to every problem,” said Macpherson. “Surely there’s a potential solution, but it’s been four-and-a-half months and Enbridge has taken a ‘business as usual’ position and the chief and councillors say that is unacceptable.”
Frederick said it is a “new day” in dealing with the Lheidli T’enneh.
“We are the rightful owners of our lands and we will be treated the respect and recognition that land owners deserve,” said Frederick. “We have aspirations to become true partners in all business and development on our lands.”