Enbridge pipeline deal with native group fraying

Tue Dec 6, 2011 7:21pm EST
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By Scott Haggett and Jeffrey Jones

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - A deal with a native chief that Enbridge Inc held up last week as an example of rising support of their planned oil pipeline to the Pacific appears to be unraveling as the community battles over who has the authority to negotiate.

Enbridge touted the Gitxsan agreement to take an equity stake in the Northern Gateway pipeline as the first public display of what it says is substantial support for the C$5.5 billion ($4.5 billion) project among British Columbia's First Nations, the aboriginal groups whose traditional territories make up vast swaths of the province.

Enbridge signed the deal with Hereditary Chief Elmer Derrick, chief negotiator for the Gitxsan Treaty Society (GTS), an embattled organization that is facing a legal challenge to its authority from four of the five community bands that make up the first nation.

Some other hereditary chiefs, community members and the three clans that form the complex structure of Gitxsan First Nation oppose the deal and met on Monday to try to shut down the treaty office and fire Derrick and other staff.

"Many of the hereditary chiefs said that they had not been directly posed the question of 'Do you want to sign this deal with Enbridge?'" said Doug Donaldson, who represents the region in the British Columbia legislature. "From a Gitxsan governance point of view, that's not the way decisions are made, as far as not consulting everyone."

Many first nations have voiced firm opposition to Northern Gateway, which would carry crude to the Pacific Coast, where it could be shipped to Asia on supertankers.

The line is supported by the Canadian energy sector and the Conservative federal government, who seek to diversify Canadian oil exports after Washington decided last month to delay approving the Keystone XL pipeline that would carry oil sands crude to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Public hearings into the project are slated to start in the West Coast port town of Kitimat, British Columbia, on January 10 and run until final arguments in April 2013, the Joint Review Panel hearing the application said on Tuesday. It said it could make a final go-ahead decision by the end of that year.   Continued...