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To Bring Crude to Tidewater, Respectful Consultation With Aboriginal Groups Will Go a Long Way

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A relatively unknown crude-to-tidewater project has crashed into a familiar obstacle—aboriginal land rights.

Members of three Mi’gmaq communities are facing off in court against Chaleur Terminals about its plan to ship 150,000 b/d of Albertan crude by rail to the Atlantic, via the New Brunswick port of Belledune. Their argument is also familiar—an alleged lack of consultation before the provincial government granted environmental, construction and site permits, although Chaleur Terminals says it met several Mi’gmaq bands over the last two years.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Energy firms have built successful partnerships with aboriginal groups across Canada. The oil industry does $1.5 billion in business every year with aboriginal-owned companies, whose numbers grow by 5.5 percent per year. They are not only growing but globalizing—Carillion, which has US$8 billion in global revenue, owns a 47 percent stake in Alberta’s Fort McKay-based Bouchier, whose many businesses include oil services companies. Another large aboriginal-owned construction and oil services firm, Fort McKay Group of Companies, also competes in Edmonton’s logistics market.

Bigstone Cree and Bronco Energy created a joint venture and the biggest oil sands project on First Nations reserve lands in Canada. The Elizabeth Métis Settlement has a major stake in Mirtex Energy and has cut a deal to build a heavy oil upgrader.

Oil sands operators rely on local First Nations for about 10 percent of their workforce. Syncrude, one of the largest private-sector employers of aboriginal people in Canada, holds Gold Level accreditation by the Canadian Council of Aboriginal Business’s Progressive Aboriginal Relations program. So does Shell.

Savanna Energy forms joint ventures to share rig ownership with aboriginal peoples on whose land it drills. Imperial Oil’s proposed Beaufort Sea to B.C. coast gas pipeline project offers residents on the route a piece of it. (The Mackenzie Valley Aboriginal Pipeline Corporation, representing Northwest Territories aboriginal groups, is targeting a one-third ownership stake).

The planned Albertan crude-to-tidewater Eagle Spirit Pipeline is First Nations led. The partners of Eagle Spirit Energy Holdings include some of Canada’s top aboriginal business names, and it is considering offering First Nations on the pipeline’s path a 50 percent ownership stake.

Yesteryear’s strategy of getting permits first and then giving residents a PowerPoint presentation later frequently sucked firms into legal swamplands.

Of course, there’s no guarantees for success. Despite offering 10 percent of its Northern Gateway pipeline to local First Nations, Enbridge still struggles to get it built. Both aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities across Canada weigh projects’ pros and cons—jobs, revenue, national economy, cultural concerns, the environment—and decide what’s best for them. But respect and consultation go a long way.

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