Coastal First Nations warns it will go after Shawn Atleo and Ovide Mercredi for joining company that is proposing bitumen refinery
The leader of the most prominent B.C. First Nations group opposing oilsands pipelines to the north coast issued an ultimatum Wednesday to two former national aboriginal leaders.
Art Sterritt of B.C. Coastal First Nations said former Assembly of First Nations grand chiefs Shawn Atleo of B.C. and Ovide Mercredi of Manitoba should withdraw their participation in the $10-billion “world’s greenest refinery” project proposed for the Prince Rupert area.
If they don’t, Sterritt said, Coastal First Nations will launch an aggressive effort to discredit Pacific Future Energy’s project and their role in promoting it. Sterritt said his members don’t trust the company’s vow to build a project that doesn’t pose a major environmental threat.
Pacific Future, headed by Mexican businessman Samer Salameh, announced in December that Atleo would assume the role of “senior adviser, partnerships” on the company’s senior management team.
Mercredi, AFN leader from 1991 to 1997, was named a part of the company’s advisory board that already included Robert Louie, chief of the economically successful Westbank First Nation near Kelowna.
Sterritt said First Nations leaders have muted their concerns out of respect for Atleo, a member of the Nuu-chah-nulth Nation on the west coast of Vancouver Island who stepped down as AFN leader last year.
But Sterritt said the gloves will come off if he can’t meet with Atleo and Mercredi and persuade them to abandon the company.
“I’m trying to set up a meeting and say, ‘hey guys, you’ve got a chance to bail on this or we’re coming after you,’” Sterritt said in an interview.
“We can’t allow them to pacify everybody, or make people in Alberta and everywhere else think that just because they’re involved that we’re all going to roll over here.”
Neither Atleo nor Mercredi would be made available for comment, said Pacific Future spokesman Mark Marissen.
“The site has not yet been determined, but suffice it to say that Pacific Future Energy will only go where we are welcomed,” he added. “We have had many constructive discussions with First Nations to date.”
Pacific Energy says it plans to build the world’s greenest and cleanest refinery, with “near net zero” carbon emissions, partly through the use of natural gas and renewable energy to power the facility.
The company plans to process 200,000 barrels of bitumen crude a day, a total that could be moved to Prince Rupert by rail, according to Marissen.
The company plans to ship refined products like gasoline and diesel to Asia, a step that will remove the threat of a devastating spill involving heavy diluted bitumen.
The refinery will “turn this bitumen into refined products like diesel and gasoline. In the case of a spill, these products float on top of water and evaporate,” the company states.
Atleo was at times outspoken as AFN leader in criticizing efforts to get Alberta’s bitumen to the B.C. coast for export to Asia-Pacific markets.
“The vast majority of First Nations that are impacted directly (by the projects) are giving expression to their opposition,” he said at a 2012 B.C. rally against the proposed Enbridge pipeline to Kitimat and the Kinder Morgan plan to twin its pipeline to Burnaby. “That’s my responsibility, to stand with them, and I will do so firmly.”
Atleo, in addition to his role with Pacific Energy, was named in October by Premier Christy Clark to lead talks between the government, First Nations and the business community on B.C.’s economic future.