As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet prepares to green-light the Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion for a second time on June 18, a new study examines why Indigenous support for pipelines is strongest among poor and remote communities.
Kinder Morgan Canada disclosed that revenue sharing agreements commit the company to pay $400 million to Indigenous communities along the pipeline route from Alberta to the B.C. coast. The federal government took over 43 “mutual benefit agreements” with Indigenous communities, 10 in Alberta and the rest in B.C., when it paid $4.5 billion for the pipeline in May 2018.
Most details are still confidential, but what is publicly known indicates that Indigenous communities that support the project have small populations, lower than average incomes and few alternatives for improving their economic circumstances, says a report released Tuesday by the Fraser Institute.
“The highly visible opposition of some B.C. first nations to pipeline construction has created the impression that all Indigenous people are opposed to resource development,” wrote Tom Flanagan, author of How First Nations Benefit from Pipeline Construction. “That impression, however, is false.”
Opponents are mainly Lower Mainland groups, notably the Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh, which are active in large urban real estate development.
“Squamish also has a lucrative contract with a small LNG export facility,” Flanagan wrote. “And Tsleil-Waututh’s opposition has been funded for the last decade by the Tides Foundation, which also subsidizes a broad array of environmentalist organizations opposed to Trans Mountain and other pipelines.”
After campaigning in 2017 to oppose the pipeline expansion, Premier John Horgan ordered the B.C. government to join the court challenge launched by Squamish, Tsleitl-Waututh and the cities of Vancouver and Burnaby. A separate reference case on whether B.C. can regulate diluted bitumen shipments was rejected unanimously by five B.C. Court of Appeal judges in May, and Attorney General David Eby confirmed he intends to try again at the Supreme Court of Canada.
Flanagan obtained details of one Indigenous community’s benefit agreement, the tiny Peters Band, a member of the Sto:lo Nation in the Fraser Valley near Hope. Financial statements filed in a membership dispute showed a payment of $606,000 from Kinder Morgan in 2014/15 for hiring consultants to study the project. The following year the Peters Band received $2,586,420 as a pre-payment on the mutual benefit agreement, according to documents filed with the federal Indigenous ministry. The total value of the Peters agreement has been estimated at $15 million over 20 years.
“In addition to the upfront payments, the band is supposed to receive $500,000 a year for the future life of the project,” Flanagan wrote. “Given that the existing pipeline started carrying oil in 1953, that lifetime could be many years.”
Flanagan notes that similar benefit agreements are in place for construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, which runs from northeast B.C. to a liquefied natural gas export facility at Kitimat. Elected councils along the entire route have signed benefits agreements, although most public attention has been on a group of Wet’suwet’en who have established a protest camp.