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Legal Win: First Nation Stops Nexen Energy From Sucking Lake Dry for Fracking

Fort Nelson First Nation in northern British Columbia has stopped Nexen Inc. from extracting more than 600 million gallons annually from Tsea Lake.
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Fort Nelson First Nation in northern British Columbia has won a key ruling that stops Nexen Inc. from pumping millions of gallons of water from a local lake for fracking purposes.

The ruling could pave the way for similar cases, according to Fort Nelson. 

“By canceling the license, the EAB has set a precedent for future provincially supported fracking and LNG exports,” Fort Nelson said in a statement.

Thanks to the ruling, procedures now require meaningful consultation with Fort Nelson and any other First Nations affected by the water and land use; the use of valid scientific models and adequate data as a foundation for decisions on the use of natural resources, and “upholding the public interest in preserving B.C.’s lakes, rivers and land for future generations,” Fort Nelson said.

“This decision sends a clear message to the B.C. government and to the fracking industry that the LNG dream will not happen at the expense of our lakes, rivers, and treaty rights,” said Fort Nelson First Nation Chief Logan in the statement.

The energy giant, owned by the state-controlled Chinese conglomerate CNOOC Ltd., had a permit allowing it to pull 2.4 billion liters (634 million gallons) of water annually from Lake Tsea between May 2012 and 2017, according to the Vancouver Sun. Nexen had already taken a large volume of water from the shallow, 32-acre lake under temporary license between 2009 and 2011, the Vancouver Sun said.

The nearly six-foot-deep lake and watershed lie within the treaty-rights territory of Fort Nelson First Nation, which had appealed the province’s decision to go ahead with the permit. The First Nation brought it before the province’s Environmental Appeal Board (EAB), which, after a 20-month-long review, canceled the permit on September 3, effective immediately.

Fort Nelson said the license never should have been granted in the first place.

“Granting this license was a major mistake by the Province,” said Logan. “Our members have always used the Tsea Lake area in our territory to hunt, trap, and live on the land. The company pumped water out of the lake, even during drought conditions. There were major impacts on the lake, fish, beavers, and surrounding environment. Water is a huge concern for us, and for all British Columbians. By approving this license, the Province demonstrated it is not protecting the public interest in water.”

The court concurred, saying that Nexen and the province had failed to consult meaningfully with the First Nation and had in addition based the permit on faulty science. Moreover, the 120-page decision noted, internal e-mail correspondence within the ministry indicated that the province was planning to issue the permit regardless of the outcome of meetings with Fort Nelson First Nation, without addressing the band’s concerns, the Vancouver Sun reported.

The fracking operations only required 1.2 billion liters (317 million gallons) of water annually, the review found, not the permitted amount, and used even less than that. The ruling allows the company to continue its operations using water it has already stored.

Logan emphasized that Fort Nelson and other First Nations are not against development, an assertion backed by previous approvals of such operations on their lands.

“We want to work with the province and industry on sustainable development in our territory, but we are being ignored,” Logan said in the statement. “We have in the past, and are willing to do so moving forward, as long as our treaty rights are respected and the public interest in environmentally sustainable development is upheld.”