Calls from climate advocates to follow the lead of the United States and pause Canadian liquified natural gas projects face a serious challenge: a promise of economic reconciliation tied to capital and liquified natural gas (LNG) development.

Biden’s move to pause LNG approvals until after the November elections was celebrated by the climate movement in the U.S. and at home. But coastal First Nations leading LNG projects say the facilities will boost their communities’ prosperity. With industry partners, Haisla Nation is developing Cedar LNG and Ksi Lisims is proposed by the Nisga’a.

The two First Nations argue the projects will contribute enough revenue to ensure independence from Ottawa to deliver crucial social services and foster future investment for their people.

Cedar LNG Team visits speaks Haisla Environmental Manager Candice Wilson. Cedar LNG Media Kit

It's essentially about becoming self-sufficient, Candice Wilson, environmental manager for Haisla First Nation, said in a previous interview. “We can be self-governing, provide services on our own and not have the limitations of policy and regulation that the federal government implements.”

But other First Nations in the region are worried about the expanding LNG development.

The Gitanyow hereditary chiefs are “quite concerned” about how the proposed Ksi Lisims project will affect Gitanyow salmon, as well as the overall climate repercussions, said Tara Marsden, Wilp sustainability director for the nation.

Marsden declined to comment on Cedar LNG, the Haisla-led project, because the development sits outside Gitanyow ancestral territory.

However, Gitanyow has heard concerns from Wet’suwet’en Nation hereditary chiefs, Marsden said. Previously, Gitanyow stood in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en over the construction of Coastal Gaslink pipelines, land dispossession and militarized police, she noted. Community members worry that a similar approach will be taken on Gitanyow territory, she added.

The Gitanyow hereditary chiefs are “quite concerned” about the impact of the proposed Ksi Lisims project on Gitanyow salmon, as well the overall climate repercussions.

“There’s a lot to learn from that as we look to Ksi Lisims,” she said. If the province approves the LNG project, construction of a pipeline extension would run through Gitanyow territory.

The tension between the nations comes at a time when the two communities have found themselves in court over a territory dispute stemming from Nisga’a’s modern treaty.

Environmental critics of the LNG expansion worry that it increases and prolongs fossil fuel usage in a world that needs to end new planet-warming projects that risk teetering our climate above a dangerous two-degree tipping point, a target set out in the Paris Accord.

Methane, the main component of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas.

Biden’s move to pause LNG approvals arrives at a time when the United States has found itself as the global leader in exports, in large part due to an expanding fracked gas industry coupled with a spike in European gas demand ignited by Russia’s war on Ukraine.

The White House pause will allow for the first review of LNG by Washington since 2018. At that time, the export capacity was 4 billion cubic feet per day. Since then, it has tripled and is set to rise by 2030 with projects under construction, according to Reuters.

Meanwhile, Canadian gas production continues to rise alongside its American ally. By the end of 2022, Canada exported around 8 billion cubic feet per day, according to Canada’s energy regulator.

Cedar LNG graphic outlining the project's positions. Cedar LNG Media Kit

In response to Biden’s decision, the B.C. government seems to be holding ground on their LNG expansion plans. In a statement to Canada’s National Observer, the province argues they are in a different position than the United States, pointing to their “revitalized and robust” environmental assessment act and climate strategy.

The provincial government points to reductions in emissions in the oil and gas industry through its CleanBC Roadmap, which outlines reductions in methane emissions by 75 per cent from 2014 levels and “virtually eliminating them by 2035.”

It’s unclear how effectively the province will be able to eliminate methane emissions from LNG projects, given their lifespan extends past 2050. The province points to electrification through renewable energy, carbon capture and storage, and relying on oil and gas caps to mitigate climate impacts of the emerging LNG industry.

However, critics think investing in electrifying a fossil fuel industry simply prolongs the inevitable decline of an industry that continues to overheat the Earth.

“The marketing pitch is that this is a net-zero product, which is factually not true,” said John Young, B.C. transition analyst with the David Suzuki Foundation.

LNG, particularly the flagship LNG Canada faciltiy, will be “B.C.’s biggest climate problem and largest emitter and will make achieving B.C.'s climate targets essentially impossible,” said Young.

Investing heavily in LNG which has a 40-year lifespan is economic madness, especially with projections pointing to LNG demand peaking in 2030, he added. It’s still unclear how steep the decline will be following 2030.

However, the provincial government’s approval of the Haisla Nation’s Cedar LNG environmental assessment shows that the province can have “development that fits within strong climate targets and benefits people and First Nations,” a statement from B.C.’s ministry of environment and climate change said.

Young notes the project seems inevitable. He is hearing from sources that the province is planning a financial package for the Haisla-led project that will be located beside LNG Canada in Kitimat.

It’s still unclear if the Nisga’a-led Ksi Lisims will be approved, but the province notes the project plans to be net-zero, and will need to meet that requirement in the environmental assessment later this year. Ksi Lisims has already made a proposed sale with an Asian purchaser earlier this month. Shell Eastern Trading of Singapore has invested to lock down a fifth of Ksi Lisims gas production.

Not all First Nations in the province support the LNG development. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to follow Biden’s lead in a press release published by Stand.Earth.

“The continued support and growth in the so-called ‘green energy’ LNG industry contributes to the environmental and climate devastation raging in this province and around the world, particularly by Indigenous communities,” Phillip said in the release.

Given the rapidly changing conditions of the climate crisis, Marsden, representing the Gitanyow hereditary chiefs, said Biden made “a wise decision” to pause LNG development to get all the “facts on the table” surrounding the climate and environmental impacts.

"The U.S. announcement will not impact Canadian projects that are under construction or under regulatory review," a spokesperson for Natural Resources Canada said in an email statement.

Ottawa is also committed to reducing natural gas emissions, producing cleaner fuels for Canada and its allies to advance global climate efforts and working with Indigenous communities to ensure LNG projects in their territories provide significant economic benefits, the statement continued.

Canada’s National Observer has contacted coastal First Nations for comment, but didn’t hear back by time of publication.

Matteo Cimellaro / Canada’s National Observer / Local Journalism Initiative

Updates and corrections

| Corrections policy
January 30, 2024, 01:29 pm

The previous version of this article said that LNG will be Canada's biggest climate problem. In fact, John Young stated it would be B.C.'s biggest climate problem.

A previous version of this article stated that an important salmon estuary sat within Gitanyow territory. In reality, the estuary is outside their territory. However, Gitanyow depend on the salmon and steward them, as they migrate through Gitanyow territory to the estuary.

This article was updated to provide comment from Natural Resources Canada.

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NET ZERO! Instead of using that electricity to do useful things during the transition, they are using clean hydro-electric power to cool natural gas to -162 degrees C. That is madness.

We heard that same irrational logic by the promoters of the LNG project on the shores of the Saguenay River. And the citizens of Québec would have had to pay higher Hydro fees to subsidize a planet wrecking fossil fuel. Pure greenwashing!

"a promise of economic reconciliation tied to capital and liquified natural gas (LNG) development"

No sympathy for indigenous communities in bed with the fossil-fuel industry. Short-term thinking and LNG pipe dreams leads to long-term woe.

When the sun sets on fossil fuels — as it must if we are to slow climate change, whose impacts are felt first and foremost by those same indigenous communities — those communities will look to Ottawa for bailouts. As we saw already during the pandemic when oil prices crashed.
First Nations dependent on up-and-down oil revenues are subject to the same rollercoaster ride Alberta is on.

"Bottom fell out of oil and gas for First Nations too, but Ottawa's silence deafening" (CP, 2020)
Fossil-fuel development sets up indigenous communities for failure. Slick operators and oil-soaked politicians have sold indigenous communities down the river to boost their own profits. Redwashing.

"Economic reconciliation" is a cynical strategy to perpetuate the O&G industry, shield it from criticism, and disarm the opposition.
The same old "divide and conquer" tactics industry has used for decades. Pitting community against community. And splitting communities internally.
Co-opting indigenous communities to participate in the industry that has exploited them and their lands without genuine consultation, much less permission, for decades.
No better example than Fort McKay and Fort Chipewyan in Alberta's oilsands region. These communities obtain jobs and new wealth at the cost of their health, environment, wildlife, and culture. Would you trade your family's health for a job?

What will be left for First Nations — and the rest of us — when the oilsands and LNG industries collapse? No jobs, a contaminated landscape bereft of wildlife, and chronic illness.
By committing to this sunset industry, are they investing in their children's future — or selling them out?

"How a conservative US network undermined Indigenous energy rights in Canada" (The Guardian, 2022)
"The Atlas Network, which has deep ties to conservative politicians and oil and gas producers, partnered with an Ottawa-based thinktank – the Macdonald-Laurier Institute (MLI) – which enlisted pro-industry Indigenous representatives in its campaign to provide 'a shield against opponents'.
"… Meanwhile, Indigenous groups linked to MLI's campaign – including the Indian Resource Council – continue to appear at conferences, testify to federal committees and get quoted in major media outlets to push the view that Indigenous prosperity is virtually impossible without oil and gas.
"Hayden King, executive director of a Toronto-based Indigenous public policy thinktank called the Yellowhead Institute, called the campaign 'a contemporary expression of the type of imperialism that Indigenous peoples have been dealing with here for many, many years'.
"… MLI is one of roughly a dozen Atlas Network partner organizations in Canada. It's a relatively new organization, formed only in 2010, but its board members and advisors come from some of the top lobbying, legal and financial firms in the country.
"… In 2018, the Atlas Network created a 13-page 'thinktank impact case study' report about a campaign being led by MLI called the 'Aboriginal Canada and the Natural Resource Economy Project'.
"… The report claims that this project was started 'at the behest of the Assembly of First Nations', a national advocacy group for Canada's Indigenous peoples, which 'saw potential in the natural resource economy as a major driver of transformation in Indigenous opportunity'.
"… The Atlas report notes that a prime objective of this collaboration was removing barriers to the production of fossil fuels.
"… MLI with the support of Atlas embarked on 'a sophisticated communications and outreach strategy to persuade the government, businesses, and Aboriginal communities on the dangers involved with fully adopting UNDRIP,' the report says.
"… 'MLI's experts are always in regular communication with MPs, Ministers, and government officials.'
"… MLI wanted to apply what it has learned in Canada globally. 'The goal of the project would be to promote Indigenous economic development across the world.'"

"How Canada Uses 'Redwashing' To Crack Down On Indigenous Pipeline Protesters (Drilled, 2023)
"In an attempt to neutralize pipeline protests from First Nations groups, Canadian industry organizations and think tanks have devised a strategy to court First Nations pipeline allies, a tactic known as 'redwashing.'
"… Indigenous land defenders and climate activists say this is part of a years-long industry strategy to silence protest against massive new oil and gas infrastructure in Canada: loudly proclaiming support for Indigenous self-determination while deploying militarized force against protesters who don't want polluting projects on their territories.
"Kris Statnyk, a Gwich'in First Nation lawyer who's been closely following the Coastal GasLink standoff, refers to this fossil fuel industry strategy as 'redwashing.'
"… The origins of this strategy can arguably be traced back to 2012, when four First Nations women helped launch Idle No More, a national protest movement calling for greater recognition of rights and sovereignty for Indigenous peoples and rejecting tar sands expansion on their traditional territories.
"… The oil and gas industry (and its political supporters) would not stand by quietly in the face of this escalating threat to its business model.
"A national conservative group called the Macdonald Laurier Institute (MLI) responded by launching a yearslong research project dedicated to neutralizing First Nations opposition to resource projects. 'The country faces the prospect of hundreds of billions of dollars of investment in the resource sector being held up by Aboriginal protests,' reads one paper from the think tank in 2013.
"The Macdonald Laurier Institute has strong ties to the oil and gas industry. …
"… The institute's strategy for dealing with Indigenous opposition to oil and gas expansion appeared to have two distinct prongs. The first involved urging companies and governments to make First Nations 'equity partners' in natural resources projects on their territories, allowing communities, some with high rates of poverty, to have partial ownership and enjoy a greater share of revenues. The second prong, as detailed in a 2013 MLI paper written by a former Lieutenant Colonel in the Canadian Armed Forces, called for security forces to employ counterinsurgency tactics against Indigenous protesters
"… The Macdonald-Laurier Institute claims this research was conducted on behalf of pro-industry First Nations leaders, reflecting a long-standing debate within Indigenous communities about the benefits and negatives of oil and gas expansion. Making these leaders the face of industrial projects had clear political advantages, providing 'a shield against opponents that is hard to undermine,' according to 2018 strategy documents from the Atlas Network and MLI.
"Five years after this initiative had started, the Macdonald-Laurier Institute was claiming victory for transforming the national conversation. 'Previously, the focus surrounding Indigenous groups highlighted their protests over pipelines and other major resource projects,' according to the documents. 'Today, the conversation has shifted to show that Indigenous peoples are active across the natural resources sector.'
"But whether all this actually benefited First Nations is debatable. As part of this strategy, MLI worked with its partners to delay and obstruct legislation designed to bolster energy rights on the traditional territories of Indigenous peoples–while claiming to be acting in those communities' best interest. Nevertheless, the think tank had become an essential political bridge-builder. 'Many elected officials now depend on the relationship that MLI has built with the Aboriginal community,' read the 2018 documents. 'This connection provides credibility and support needed to battle opponents.'
"One of the first major tests of this strategy took place in British Columbia, where for years oil and gas producers had been unlocking vast volumes of natural gas …
"… As TC Energy sent teams throughout the 2010s to convince First Nations communities along the route to support the pipeline, the B.C. government began making six-figure financial contributions to a new group called the First Nations LNG Alliance, composed of Indigenous leaders in favor of gas expansion. That group in turn formed a research partnership with the Macdonald Laurier Institute and the University of British Columbia
"… Making Indigenous communities the public face of new gas projects could help win over foreign investors. 'First Nations leaders should be in front of proponents to communicate this support because overseas proponents are paying attention to opposition groups.'
"… Around that time, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and a major oil and gas producer known as Cenovus helped launch a new group called the Indigenous Resource Network, which began making the case in national newspaper op-eds, resource conferences and presentations to the federal Canadian government that Indigenous prosperity is impossible without oil and gas projects such as Coastal GasLink.
"All this has resulted in confusing parallel realities, where oil and gas companies and their First Nations allies loudly proclaim that gas expansion is healing the injustices of colonialism, while TC Energy relies on the RCMP, a police force created at the height of Canadian colonialism to assert dominance over Indigenous communities, to violently suppress pipeline opponents, many of whom are also First Nations.
"These warring narratives have helped create 'division and conflicts within communities, and all of that is very much in the interests of the oil and gas corporations and the government itself. It just helps to exhaust and wear down the resistance.'"

It's all been more business as usual: in this case, the corporations and governments are using the First Nations by hooking them in to short-term financial gains ... that will be followed by long term responsibility for financial losses. They've been played.
This is the same project, under the guise of "First Nations leadership" as was roundly and soundly trounced by First Nations and "whities" alike a decade or perhaps more back, when Nathan Cullen was the MP for the area. There was a referendum, involving the City of Terrace and surrounding communities, both First Nations and otherwise ... and was turned down.
What a shame.

So beyond the fact that these projects are massive carbon bombs that will have a terrible impact on the climate, I think the first nations backing these projects are foolish on the very terms they're talking about.

Self-sufficiency? These projects are not going to last very long, nor will the money or jobs associated with them. The transition is happening and the markets for this stuff will dry up, and quite soon. Where will your self-sufficiency be then? You'll have put in all this effort, dumped all your eggs in this basket, alienated your neighbours for it, and it will be delivering nothing, and you will have spent the time not doing the other things you might have done that would have paid off less up front but have benefits that lasted longer. Basically, you get one short boom, ten years if you're lucky--better not squander it like nearly every other jurisdiction on earth.

The ongoing push for the Squamish WLNG facility by the first nations, the NDP government and all the other governments at all levels appears to be nearing culmination, to the extreme detriment of the Squamish environment, including wildlife at all levels, plus air, water/rivers, forests, air, and ultimately the general population. I wish the National Observer would delve into this debacle and write one of its comprehensive articles on this impending disaster, likely to be given government approval within the next very short while. Can it be halted?

Squander short-term profits? First they have to pay off the debts incurred to own the project!!!

As Geoffrey Pounder’s impressive research and knowledgeable comments distinctly demonstrate beyond any doubt (thank you Geoffrey!), the involvement of some of BC’s First Nations in the development and promotion of LNG terminals and pipelines is essentially a cynical business model move on behalf of the O&G industry. Positioning First Nations as the “face” of the various proposed LNG projects is definitely an attempt to mitigate some of the growing opposition to the establishment of any more LNG or O&G infrastructure. In the current age of indigenous reconciliation, people are probably more hesitant to criticize FN’s involvement in these LNG proposals for fear of someone playing the “racism card.” Sad, but true.

Unfortunately, some First Nations have fallen for this ploy and have become willing partners in the ongoing efforts to prolong and promote more O&G drilling, fracking and the building of the resultant needed infrastructure in the face of the existential threat to the planet and its inhabitants from runaway climate change. FNs promote themselves as stewards of the Earth. How does the production of more carbon intensive fossil fuels fit into stewardship of the planet given what is known about its disastrous effects on the world and its climate? It doesn’t! Especially in light of new information detailing just how much methane escapes throughout the production and transport of LNG.

I adamantly and strenuously object to paying a higher electricity bill to subsidize further LNG or other O&G production and their necessary infrastructure! BC citizens are being forced to pay more taxes and to give yet more subsidies to one of the wealthiest industries in the world. Enough is enough!

Stewardship demands that one thinks beyond one’s personal realm, territory or time and consider any given action’s impact on the others around them and beyond. Separating into cultural enclaves or cultural communities doesn’t make for a better or more just world; one doesn’t need to look very hard to see the absolute truth in this statement.

I sympathize with FN’s attempts to improve their lives, but they need to find other more environmentally friendly ways of doing so. Maybe more interaction, collaboration and integration with the other people in BC is the solution to this perennial problem. Unfortunately, the status quo (i .e. cultural separation) will continue as long as the current system pertaining to the parameters of indigenous governance continues. A shame for all of us.