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$1 Billion? No Thanks: First Nation Turns Down Offer for LNG on Ancestral Land

Lax Kw'alaams First Nation Band in BC turns down $1 billion from Malaysian energy company Petronas to build LNG terminal on ancestral lands.

A First Nation in northern British Columbia has said no thank you to a $1 billion ($960 million US) offer from a Malaysian company looking to build a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal on ancestral land.

In a statement, the band said it was not averse to development, or even an LNG terminal, in the vicinity. Just not in that particular spot.

"The Terminal is planned to be located in the traditional territory of the Lax Kw'alaams,” said Lax Kw’alaams Band Mayor Garry Reece in a statement from the band, quoted by The Northern View. "Hopefully, the public will recognize that unanimous consensus in communities (and where unanimity is the exception) against a project where those communities are offered in excess of a billion dollars, sends an unequivocal message this is not a money issue: This is environmental and cultural. That unanimity was achieved in three separate community meetings."

The environmental risks of Pacific NorthWest LNG, the terminal that Malaysian company Petroliam Nasional Bhd. (Petronas, the country’s state-owned petroleum company) wants to build at the headwaters of the Skeena River, are too great, the band said, because of the threat it could pose to the watershed, including key salmon habitat, according to CBC News. The project, proposed for Lelu Island, would be very close to the adjacent underwater area of Flora Bank, “where an abundance of eel grass provides vital habitat to maturing salmon in the Skeena watershed,” CBC News explained.

The payment would have meant $319,000 in Canadian currency ($267,000US) to each member over 40 years, or $7,975 Canadian ($6,675US) annually per member. The 3,600 Tsimshian First Nation band members were polled during the course of three meetings, each group turning down the money that would have been paid in exchange for their consent. This led the band council to vote no.

While the band’s rejection does not legally stop the project from continuing, band leaders said that the First Nation’s wishes should be respected.

“Only Lax Kw'alaams have a valid claim to aboriginal title in the relevant area—their consent is required for this project to proceed,” Reece said. “There are suggestions governments and the Proponent may try to proceed with the project without consent of the Lax Kw'alaams. That would be unfortunate."

The band also emphasized that it was voting against the location, not the Pacific NorthWest LNG project per se.

"Lax Kw'alaams is open to business, to development, and to LNG,” said the Lax Kw’alaams Band Council in the statement. “It is not open to development proximate to Flora Bank.”

Pacific NorthWest LNG President Mike Culbert told The Northern View that the company would continue to consult with the First Nation. He told the news site that changing the location would entail basically starting from scratch, and that the company had done many studies and made other attempts to consult and engage with First Nations on the $30 billion project.

"Lax Kw'alaams recognizes the positive economic impacts for all British Columbians that might result from a positive final investment decision by PNW,” the band council said. “Lax Kw'alaams will continue to work with PNW in good faith to find a solution."