The BC Oil and Gas Commission failed to properly consult with the Fort Nelson First Nation and address – or even entertain – their concerns about the impact of a new natural gas pipeline on caribou, according to the BC Supreme Court.
In an oral ruling handed down December 15, the court overturned the commission’s approval in June of a 32-kilometre natural gas pipeline in an area of northeastern B.C. called Fortune Core.
The commission failed to properly address the Fort Nelson First Nation’s concerns about mitigating the impacts of the pipeline on a small herd of boreal caribou in the Maxhamish Range.
The company that plans to build the pipeline, Rockyview Resources Ltd., is based in Calgary. The company has not yet responded to calls from Business in Vancouver.
According to the Fort Nelson First Nation, the commission refused to even consider their concerns about the impact of the pipeline on caribou.
“If our concerns with appropriate caribou management had been taken seriously by the OGC and by the pipeline company, Rockyview Resources, this project may well have proceeded,” Fort Nelson Chief Harrison Dickie said in a press release.
Matthew Kirchner, a lawyer from Ratcliff and Co. LLP, who represented Fort Nelson First Nation, said the commission showed a “stunning” disregard for some of the concerns the First Nation tried to raise as part of a review of the project.
“It was really quite stunning how quickly they shut down any discussion on what Fort Nelson wanted to talk about,” he told Business in Vancouver.
He said the Fort Nelson First Nation wanted to discuss a caribou management plan and a recovery plan.
But he said the commission’s response was that the area is already heavily disturbed with pipelines and seismic lines and refused to entertain any additional recommendations for mitigation of impacts on caribou habitat, according to Kirchner.
“I’ve got to say, as someone who’s done a lot of consultation litigation, it was pretty stunning to see how just how intransigent the board was on this,” Kirchner said.
A written decision has not yet been published by the court. In a new release in response to the court decision, the commission wrote: “The commission will study the decision, and is committed to making any necessary improvements to its consultation and decision-making processes to address the Court’s direction and to facilitate a strong working relationship with Chief Harrison Dickie and his community.