CALGARY — Sixteen Indigenous communities along the Coastal GasLink pipeline route have signed option agreements for an equity stake in the project, a move that one Indigenous leader hopes will set a precedent for future energy infrastructure projects in Canada.
In an interview Wednesday, Chief Corinna Leween of the Chaslatta Carrier Nation — whose traditional lands are located northwest of Prince George, B.C., along the pipeline's corridor — said the agreements are an "historic milestone" for Indigenous communities.
"This is what we've been striving for, to finally have a say and make informed business decisions that will benefit our communities back home," said Leween.
"A lot of our Nations are still living in poverty, Third World poverty, and not having access to capital or the infrastructure dollars that are needed to do the development of our communities. We are hoping that this will help alleviate it."
The signing of the agreements was announced Wednesday by TC Energy, the Calgary-based company currently constructing the Coastal GasLink pipeline. In all, 16 communities — represented by two groups, the CGL First Nations Limited Partnership and the FN CGL Pipeline Limited Partnership — have signed on for the option of a 10 per cent equity stake in the project.
Financial terms were not disclosed. The equity options are exercisable once the pipeline begins commercial service, with a target date of 2023.
Tiffany Murray, director of Indigenous relations for Coastal GasLink, said the equity option was offered to all 20 First Nations along the pipeline route with which TC Energy currently has existing project agreements.
The existing agreements provide for various long-term benefits for Indigenous communities, such as employment and contracting opportunities for the life of the project.
"When we negotiated the agreements initially, that was sort of the intent of what the overall benefits would be," Murray said. "But when we went through the process to sell down equity back in 2019, we heard from these communities that they had interest in being equity owners as well."
Global investment firm KKR and the Alberta Investment Management Corp., as well as TC Energy, are the other equity owners of Coastal GasLink. KKR and AIMCO acquired their combined 65 per cent stake in late 2019.
The Coastal GasLink pipeline, which is currently more than 60 per cent complete, will carry natural gas across 670 kilometres from the Groundbirch area west of Dawson Creek, B.C., to a liquefied natural gas export facility being constructed by LNG Canada and its partners near Kitimat, B.C.
While many Indigenous people support the project, Coastal GasLink has been strongly opposed by others.
In early 2020, opposition by Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs over the pipeline being built in their territory in northwestern B.C. set off Canada-wide rail blockades by their supporters that stalled parts of the country's economy.
"We continue to really seek to engage with Wet'suwet'en, and seek those opportunities to better understand concerns and interests as it relates to the project," Murray said. "I would say it continues as a work in progress . . . to find ways to come to solutions or address concerns as best we can."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 9, 2022.
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Amanda Stephenson, The Canadian Press