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B.C. First Nations Dig in Heels on Northern Gateway Pipeline


An alliance of aboriginal groups in British Columbia has told federal officials that if Ottawa wants to get tribal cooperation on energy development, they'll have to kill a controversial oil pipeline proposal.

The Northern Gateway pipeline is proposed to carry oil from the Alberta tar sands to Kitimat in northern B.C. There, the crude would be loaded onto tankers for export to Asia. The prospect of heavy oil tanker traffic in the stormy Hecate Strait, in an area where an informal ban on tankers has existed for more than 40 years, has many in the region up in arms. Art Sterritt, with the Coastal First Nations, says it's the wrong project in the wrong place.

"Fifteen hours of inside waters in the Great Bear Rainforest, large, large tankers making 90-degree and 180-degree turns around islands. It's just an absolutely ridiculous proposition," he said.

The Coastal First Nations just released a TV advertisement featuring stark images of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska and warning of the immense costs of such a spill in B.C. The ad urges Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to stop the Northern Gateway project.

Sterritt says First Nations would be willing to work with Ottawa to facilitate other energy projects that pose less environmental threat. But, he says, a delegation of government ministers who just visited tribal leaders got a very clear message.

"Northern Gateway's a non-starter. If you want to build a relationship with us, you're not going to do it in order to move Northern Gateway forward," he said.

The First Nations ad campaign follows an advertising blitz by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce supporting the pipeline, saying it would bring jobs and economic development to the region.

Liam Moriarty started with KPLU in 1996 as our freelance correspondent in the San Juan Islands. He’s been our full-time Environment Reporter since November, 2006. In between, Liam was News Director at Jefferson Public Radio in Ashland, Oregon for three years and reported for a variety of radio, print and web news sources in the Northwest. He's covered a wide range of environment issues, from timber, salmon and orcas to oil spills, land use and global warming. Liam is an avid sea kayaker, cyclist and martial artist.