Native leaders debate pipeline stake
- From: Don <dbain@...>
POSTED AT 12:07 AM EDT Thursday, June 07
Native leaders debate pipeline stake
By LILY NGUYEN From Thursday's Globe and Mail
Calgary A deal that would give Northwest Territories natives one-third ownership of a multibillion-dollar pipeline turned controversial Wednesday as native leaders argued into the early evening about whether to hold out for a bigger stake or take more time to consult with their communities.
A memorandum of understanding, which laid out how aboriginals would participate in a $3-billion pipeline being contemplated in their region by a consortium of oil producers, had yet to be signed by 38 native leaders in Hay River, NWT at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.
But by late afternoon, representatives of two native groups the Deh Cho and the Sahtu had splintered off to discuss whether they wanted to proceed with the deal.
By 4:30 p.m., a representative of the Sahtu said his community had decided to sign with conditions.
"Basically, the Sahtu have stated and put forward a position that we will sign this [memorandum of understanding] with reservations," he told the more than 200 delegates at the meeting, which was also broadcast on a conference call.
The document is the result of nearly 1½ years of work by the Aboriginal Pipeline Group, which includes representatives from the four groups the Inuvialuit, the Deh Cho, the Sahtu and Gwich'in whose lands the proposed pipeline would cross. It lays out a framework by which aboriginals would put up $1-billion of the estimated $3-billion cost of building the pipeline and take a one-third ownership position in the project, which is expected to take anywhere from five to 10 years to complete. It is not considered binding but rather gives the Aboriginal Pipeline Group a continued mandate to negotiate a binding agreement.
But some native leaders argued aboriginals should hold out for a 100-per-cent stake under a proposal from Arctic Resources Co. of Houston. The Houston group is pushing a pipeline that would connect not only the Mackenzie Delta-Beaufort Sea gas fields in the NWT, but also massive reserves in Alaska's Prudhoe Bay, in a single pipeline that would run down the Mackenzie Valley.
Alaskan Governor Tony Knowles as well as Yukon Premier Pat Duncan have vocally opposed such a plan, throwing their weight instead behind proposals to build a separate pipeline from Alaska that travels along the Alaska Highway. NWT Premier Stephen Kakfwi has expressed concerns that the building of the Alaska Highway pipeline would derail or indefinitely delay a Mackenzie Valley pipeline.
Wednesday, Doug Cardinal, one of the representatives of the Aboriginal Pipeline Group, said in an interview that a 100-per-cent equity stake makes no sense because it carries too much risk, and aboriginals don't have the expertise to take full responsibility for a pipeline project.
"It's a very, very dangerous commitment by First Nations. We have to learn how to walk before we can run."
Pius Rolheiser, a spokesman for Imperial Oil, said the producers group would "ideally" like all native leaders to get on board.
It's believed that at a minimum, representatives of the four aboriginal communities directly affected by a pipeline would need to sign the deal before the producers group and the Aboriginal Pipeline Group can proceed to the next step of hammering out a contract.
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