by Sue Stroud
Steelhead LNG and Malahat Nation have proposed a liquid natural gas (LNG) plant for the Saanich Inlet. The floating facility, based at the former Bamberton lands, will be capable of producing nearly eight million tonnes of LNG a year fuelled by a 128-kilometre natural gas pipeline. The project is just in the beginning of the planning and public consultation stage.
North Saanich hosted a well-attended (over 600 people) informational public information session on the proposed LNG plant at the Mary Winspear Centre on May 31. Central Saanich, which was invited to participate and share in the $15,000 cost, instead opted for a free presentation by Steelhead LNG at its May 9th Committee of the Whole meeting, in the Fire Training Hall at the Central Saanich District Municipal Hall.
The approaches taken by Central Saanich and North Saanich with regard to Steelhead LNG were quite different, while the outcomes of the meetings were not.
One of the most notable differences in the two approaches may have been the presence of security services. The North Saanich event saw community participants searched by hired security personal as they entered. This was not an expected – or well-received – protocol by the community participants. Central Saanich did not feel the need for added security at the community meeting.
“We have been working for two decades to rehabilitate our Inlet. Xas is a place of refuge and of healing.
The North Saanich meeting offered seven presentations. Presenters included proponents of the project, local First Nations leaders, a scientist from Fisheries & Oceans Canada (DFO), a PhD of economics, and a technical advisor to the global oil and gas industry.
While dialogue was what was promised, what was offered wasn’t quite as constructive. The audience was required to submit written questions, placing them in boxes at the back of the room. The questions were then chosen, asked and sometimes answered – sometimes by the moderator himself. The tension in the room was thick at times with the process itself being credited with creating much of it. No one, including Council, was permitted to directly question the presenters, and many found the presenters to be adversarial in nature, most notably Gordon Wilson, the province’s $12,500 per month LNG advocate who used his presentation time slot to attempt to discredit the presenter directly before him, claiming that the retired partner at KPMG’s presentation was, “not even good science fiction”.
Chief Don Tom, on behalf of the Wsanec First Nations, spoke powerfully of the knowledge of his ancestry and his people’s rights and of the sense of family they maintain. “We are not here alone, our ancestors are here with us,” said Tom. “We have been working for two decades to rehabilitate our Inlet. Xas is a place of refuge and of healing. The elders have given me the permission to say absolutely and unequivocally that under no circumstances will we approve this project.”
The presentations can be found HERE on the North Saanich website.
Central Saanich took a different approach.
Central Saanich invited Steelhead LNG’s president Victor Ojeda, and technical advisor Ian Hill, as well as the CEO of the Malahat First Nation, Renee Racette, to present at their May Committee of the Whole meeting. The group was questioned by Central Saanich councillors and the gallery (audience) was invited to speak to any letters they had submitted and later the floor was thrown open for all to make their comments. The only caveats were that the speakers address Council rather than the proponents, that the remarks remain respectful, and that there be no applause as it was felt that it may create a sense of discomfort for different viewpoints. For the most part this was adhered to. The Council and audience asked some tough but insightful questions of the Steelhead and Malahat First Nations representatives, and while tensions clearly rose around this highly controversial subject, most visibly from Steelhead representatives, the discussion remained respectful, with just a little help from Mayor Ryan Windsor.
“We hold out our hands to the other First Nations around the Inlet and invite them in to be part of the review of the project. We ask you to participate and be aggressive in your questions
Ojeda pointed out that they are in preliminary stages and not in the regulatory process yet. They see these meetings as a way of gathering input, as the beginning of an ongoing dialogue adding that the safety of the environment is important to them. In response to a question from Coun. Zeb King, they stated that this meeting and the North Saanich meeting would not be considered to have fulfilled the dialogue requirement and that further dialogue would be forthcoming in the months and years ahead.
Hill spoke to the technical details stating that LNG is non-explosive and non-flammable, is stored cryogenically and transferred over a 24 hour period to a container ship which would be moored by the shore. He said that one ship would arrive every three to five days travelling at approx. eight knots, and no ships would be in waiting off-shore. [It should be noted that three knots is the preferred speed in the inlet]. When answering Coun. Alicia Holman with regard to fracking the proponents stated that they are simply buying the gas from companies that are already providing gas for household use throughout BC. Adding that they do believe the companies they are contracting with are environmentally responsible and that BC’s rules enforce that. Coun. Carl Jensen, who stated that he is not opposed to the project, asked about the financial benefit to the community, but was told by the proponent that the provincial government only negotiates when the project is at a fairly advanced stage. They did add that the value of the project over time is estimated to be roughly $1 billion divided between federal, provincial and local jurisdictions, but that the proportions would not be known until later.
the value of the project over time is estimated to be roughly $1 billion divided between federal, provincial and local jurisdictions
Renee Racette, CEO of Malahat First Nations said, “We hold out our hands to the other First Nations around the Inlet and invite them in to be part of the review of the project. We ask you to participate and be aggressive in your questions.” Racette emphasized that the review would be independent, although she also mentioned that Malahat First Nations are being trained by Steelhead LNG to take the environmental measurements among other things. She stated that no Steelhead employee is allowed to go anywhere on the Malahat territory without being accompanied by a member of the Malahat First Nation. When questioned by Coun. King about why there had as yet been no consultation with Wsanec First Nations Racette responded saying, “We are in early stages.” She added that Malahat and Wsanec are related and must talk.
Several members of the gallery spoke citing fear for the environmental damage that could be done to the Inlet. “We are seniors and the care for our future is in the value of our homes,” said one. Another pointed out that the Cowichan Valley Regional District had voted no to the project but later revised its statement to say they would consider, listen and participate in the process, after receiving what the speaker described as a very threatening, scary letter from Steelhead’s solicitors. The proponent indicated he knew what was in this letter when stating that the CVRD had allowed, “no due process, no proper dialogue and no proper understanding of the facts.”
Central Saanich meeting video can be found HERE – starting at 26:45
After all is said the outcomes of the meeting were very similar. Both meetings left a lot of questions unanswered with the proponents of the project frequently repeating, “We don’t know, we are early in the process.”
“We don’t know, we are early in the process.”
Central Saanich voted to oppose the Steelhead LNG project in Saanich Inlet.
Recused from Saanich Inlet LNG discussions
Coun. Niall Paltiel of Central Saanich recused (excused) himself due to an employment contract that he felt would place him in a conflict of interest if he stayed. After repeated questioning and a specific request to Council for a ruling the Central Saanich solicitor stated that enough information must be given with regard to a contract to allow the public to make their own judgment as to whether there is a conflict. This includes who the conflict is with and how it is a conflict. Coun. Paltiel stated on June 20th that he had been remiss in not clarifying the nature of the conflict. He has a contract with the Liberal Party of BC which he said “has a strong position on LNG.”