First Nations try to undo the past with pipeline research

The Alaska Gas pipeline may be years away, but First Nations along its proposed route aren't taking any chances. The pipeline - which is probably more than a decade away - could one day rival the effects of early colonialism.

The Alaska Gas pipeline may be years away, but First Nations along its proposed route aren’t taking any chances.

The pipeline – which is probably more than a decade away – could one day rival the effects of early colonialism.

Altering the energy sources and the economic drivers of First Nation communities would change them irrevocably, and the experiences of the past have been unpreparedness, shock and, ultimately, despair.

But in the age of self-government, that’s all supposed to change.

Since 2007, the Alaska Highway Aboriginal Pipeline Coalition has been a think tank of sorts for the First Nations prepping for the biggest project since the highway itself.

The coalition has reviewed the two competing pipeline projects, the regulatory regimes and the history of First Nations’ regulatory concerns elsewhere, hoping to map out a sophisticated plan for handling the projects.

It’s published a dense, 145-page report on how the First Nations should prepare their governments for the pipeline.

Last week, the coalition received $110,272 for a three-day workshop to turn that advice into policy.

There’s no word yet on when that will happen. Coalition chair Ruth Massie did not return phone calls this week.

But when First Nations do sit down, they have a lot of big choices to make.

There’s a maze of regulatory regimes to sift through and it’s not clear which ones would be tougher on the companies.

TransCanada, which has partnered with Exxon Mobil on its project, has its own special regulatory rules under the Northern Pipeline Act that have been kicking around since the project was first talked about in the 1970s.

The Denali project, which is owned by BP and Conocophillips, would use the National Energy Board as its key regulator.

The big unknown is the Yukon Environmental and Socioeconomic Assessment Board, which oversees territorial projects.

First Nations are worried the board might not have the wherewithal to handle the pipeline project, according to the coalition’s March report.

The board is weak when it comes to understanding socioeconomic impacts, one of the report’s contributors says.

Both pipeline consortiums are lobbying Ottawa on all three regulatory regimes, according to the federal lobbying registry.

There’s also a push to have the research done by companies owned by the First Nations.

But the biggest challenge will likely be whether First Nations’ governments have enough skilled staff to handle such an enormous project, says the report.

For this reason, First Nations should seriously consider working together, it says.

If one government doesn’t ask for concessions in its benefit agreement, that would likely set a precedent for all the other First Nations, it says.

As it stands, the coalition asserts it does not represent First Nations. It’s an independent research office.

Both pipeline projects have completed their open season – an industry term that refers to the period when a pipeline company takes offers from pipeline users, called shippers.

Denali finished its open season on October 4.

“We’re still negotiating with our shippers,” said David MacDowell, the Denali spokesperson.

The number of shippers is confidential, said MacDowell.

The company predicts it will be done negotiating in the first quarter of 2011.

After that, Denali will write precedent agreements with the shippers, the precursor to shipping contracts.

TransCanada is also still negotiating the shippers who sent proposals during its open season, which ended in July, said Terry Cuhna, a spokesperson.

Contact James Munson at

jamesm@yukon-news.com.

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