PETALING JAYA, March 21 — For the sake of protecting the earth, aboriginal Canadians turned down a whopping C$1.15 billion (RM3.56 billion) offer from Petronas that was seeking their support for a pipeline which they believed would harm a salmon river.
UK paper The Guardian reported yesterday Lax Kw’alaams First Nation hereditary chief Yahaan as saying that he believed his impoverished community might have voted to approve the liquified natural gas (LNG) project when the Malaysian state oil giant made the offer last year, but every single member of the indigenous group had rejected it.
“Opportunities like that don’t come to your door every day.
“But I give my people credit for taking that bold step. They showed their love and their passion for the land and water. No amount of money can compare to the richness of the river and what it gives us,” Yahaan was quoted saying by the paper.
Petronas is planning to build a multi-billion ringgit LNG export terminal at the mouth of Skeena, Canada’s second-longest salmon river, an area which lies within the Lax Kw’alaams First Nation’s traditional grounds, to ship LNG out of British Colombia.
The Guardian reported that the location of the proposed Petronas project lies directly at an area where hundreds of millions of young salmon fish travel to annually before maturing, also noting that Skeena’s abundant fish population is needed by the First Nations aboriginal groups, the local wildlife and the region’s economy.
After the government of Canada’s province British Columbia gave its nod to Petronas for the project despite the Lax Kw’alaams’ rejection, Yahaan and his community members have since last summer been turning the oil firm’s workers away from sensitive areas at the river.
Yahaan said the Canadian police escorting workers from Petronas have made verbal threats against his community’s boat patrols, noting: “They said they were watching us from land, air, and water. A police sergeant told me, ‘we could have ripped anyone out of those boats, but we didn’t want to make it seem like we were protecting the corporations.’”
The Guardian said the aboriginal group’s rejection of the LNG plant was not merely about wild salmon, but about defending the indigenous worldview of “taking care with the land so that it can take care of people”, rather than supporting a fossil fuel economy with short-term jobs.
Yahaan’s community has been getting increasing backing from others, with a few aboriginal groups, local Canadian groups and opposition politicians this January signing the Lelu Declaration meant to call for protection of the area from development.
The opposition by Yahaan’s community is seen as putting pressure on Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, whose Liberal government had pledged to better protect the environment.
On Saturday, Petronas’ three-year wait for a permit to build the LNG terminal encountered further delay, after the Canadian government agreed to give its federal environmental assessment agency three more months to complete its study of the project’s impact.
Yesterday, news wire agency Reuters reported that the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency had needed more information from those behind the project for its report initially due on March 22, with the data required to determine if the proposed Petronas facility is “likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects”.
The wait for Petronas and its partners in the project is expected to end this year, with Canada’s Environment Minister Catherine McKenna’s spokesman saying yesterday that the country’s Cabinet will declare its decision three months after the additional information is handed over.
Reuters said Petronas can ill afford a long and inconclusive process with Canadian authorities on the proposed LNG export facility project, with analysts estimating that the amount spent on this project is equivalent to some US$12 billion (RM48.6 billion) of the firm’s planned spending cuts over the next four years.
Petronas, which has seen its profits cut by a drop in crude oil prices globally, will also have to face the prospect of lower gas prices — which are now a quarter of the peak levels in 2014.