Push Back Inevitable? Former Assembly of First Nations Chiefs Tapped for Refinery Project

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Two First Nations chiefs have been recruited by the British Columbia oil refinery company Pacific Future Energy to help launch their plan to build a new bitumen refinery.

On Thursday, former national chiefs of the Assembly of First Nations, Shawn Atleo and Ovide Mercredi, were tapped as advisors for the project.

Pacific Future Energy intends to take bitumen, an oil-based substance, from Alberta’s oil sands and convert it into refined products for export to Asia. According to the Financial Post, the initial phase of the project, processing 200,000 barrels a day of bitumen from the sands, would cost $10 billion, and the next four phases of the project could raise the cost to $34 billion.

“I see this as a major opportunity to shape a new direction in major project development,” Atleo told the Financial Post. “The only way a project will proceed is if First Nations are directly involved, and providing their consent and their support, and their full partnership if that is what they choose.” Mercredi spoke to the Globe and Mail, saying that a new approach on the energy file needs to be implemented to recognize aboriginal rights.

So far, no site for the refinery has been chosen, but push back on the project is possible.

In June, Canada approved Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway pipeline, a $6.5-billion project that seeks to get landlocked Alberta crude oil to world markets, it’s a project that could well be likened to Pacific Future Energy’s, and it’s one that the First Nation community has fought against. One of their main concerns is oil spills.

Associated Press

Former Assembly of First Nations Chief Ovide Mercredi, center, responds to a question during a news conference with former Prime Ministers Joe Clark, left, and Paul Martin in Ottawa on Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said that the Northern Gateway pipeline would, “completely undermine and damage what’s left of the relationship between First Nations and both provincial and federal governments.”

Whether similar protests will occur is yet to be seen, but as it stands, officials on the new project are drafting plans.

Former Federal International Trade Minister Stockwell Day, who joined Pacific Future Energy in August, said that although First Nations are critical of shipping bitumen, it doesn’t mean that they are against economic development, the Globe and Mail reported.