Petronas-led proposal for Lelu Island is one of leading B.C. projects
Northern B.C. First Nation members say they stopped Malaysian state-controlled Petronas, the company behind an $11.4-billion liquefied natural gas terminal, from starting test ocean drilling in northwest B.C. this weekend.
The 33-metre Quin Delta drill ship, owned by Gregg Marine in California, and a barge were moved into the waters off Lelu Island near Prince Rupert by Pacific NorthWest LNG early Saturday morning.
Some equipment was set up before First Nations went out to the ship and asked the workers to stop, said Joey Wesley, a Lax Kw’alaams First Nation member.
The activity ceased, but the workers appeared to have trouble removing equipment from the ocean floor, including heavy concrete blocks with surface markers, he said. The ship and barge remained in their location on Sunday just off Lelu Island, said Wesley.
“Our intention is to put a stop to it. It’s a really sensitive eco-system,” Wesley said in a phone interview Sunday.
Wesley is part of an “occupation” camp — numbering 45 or so people from various First Nations — set up on the island two weeks ago over concerns the LNG project will harm salmon-rearing habitat in eel grass beds at Flora Bank adjacent to the island and to block development of the terminal.
The occupation group put out a call on Facebook during the weekend for reinforcements to help halt any drilling.
Wesley, whose family claims Lelu Island as a traditional-use area, noted that four or five workers walked onto Flora Bank when it was exposed by the low tide on Sunday, something they had been asked not to do.
Wesley said their concerns have been heightened by a 2013 internal audit that found serious safety issues on Petronas’ offshore Malaysian operations revealed in a Vancouver Sun last week.
The Prince Rupert Port Authority said Sunday it has authorized Pacific NorthWest LNG to drill as part of preliminary site work for a federal assessment. In an email, port authority spokesman Michael Gurney said they respect people’s right to express their opinion safely and peacefully, but noted they have patrol boats in the harbour and anybody jeopardizing safety will be asked to stop.
Pacific NorthWest LNG could not be reached for comment on Sunday.
The terminal and its pipeline to northeast B.C. have been viewed as a leading project in the Christy Clark-led Liberal government’s efforts to start a new natural gas export industry to Asia.
Last spring, the Lax Kw’alaams rejected a $1.15-billion benefits package offer from the company and the B.C. government on concerns over Flora Bank.
The Lax Kw’alaams elected leadership told its members three weeks ago it had an agreement that allowed investigative drilling to find an alternative site, away from the Flora Bank. The port has said the elected leadership has agreed to the drilling work.
The company, however, has not answered questions on whether the drilling is to find another location for a suspension bridge and pier that skirts one edge of Flora Bank.
While the province has approved the Pacific NorthWest LNG project, a federal government review is still pending.
It’s been delayed several times as the agency has asked for more information about the effects of the project on salmon-rearing habitat at Flora Bank.