Three Mi'kmaq communities from Quebec are appealing to the federal government in their effort to block a plan by an Alberta company to build a rail and marine terminal to export Western Canadian crude from a remote northern New Brunswick port.
Calgary-based Secure Energy Services Inc. is proposing to spend up to $400-million to bring two unit trains of crude per day to Belledune, N.B., where an export terminal would have capacity to ship 120,000 barrels a day of crude to international markets.
Three First Nation communities, members of the Mi'gmawei Mawiomi Secretariat, sent a letter to Environment Minister Catherine McKenna and Transport Minister Marc Garneau, urging the federal government to consult with them on the "risks and impacts" of the project.
The Mi'kmaq opposition comes as Alberta oil producers and Premier Rachel Notley express increasing frustration over their inability to win support for their efforts to get their crude to tidewater in order to diversify their export market away from a near-total reliance on the United States.
Municipal officials in Quebec and British Columbia, as well as First Nations and environmentalists, have mounted major hurdles to two projects now under review: TransCanada Corp.'s proposed Energy East pipeline to Saint John and Kinder Morgan Canada's expansion of the TransMountain line to Vancouver.
Secure Energy has won provincial environmental approval for its Chaleur Terminal project, but the Mi'kmaq have challenged that decision in provincial court, with a hearing set for next week. The company is "evaluating the project and actively seeking commercial support," Chaleur Terminals vice-president John Levson said Wednesday. Once it makes a final investment decision, it would take two years to commence operations, he said.
The Mi'kmaq say they have aboriginal title and treaty rights in the area that must be respected, notably along the Restigouche River that flows into Chaleur Bay by the Gaspé Peninsula and northern New Brunswick. "The project presents a large number of serious and potentially irreversible negative impacts to our lands, waters and way of life," Chief Scott Martin, chair of the secretariat, said in the letter. Specifically, the communities are worried about salmon spawning grounds that could be destroyed if there was a derailment that spilled crude into the river.
He urged the federal government to conduct its own environmental review of the project under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and the Fisheries Act, and threatened to launch legal action against Ottawa if "swift and immediate action" is not taken by the federal government.
"We should not in this day and age have to live with these kinds of major threats to our rivers, our communities and our way of life – transporting oil by rail should be a thing of the past," he said in a news release Wednesday.
A spokeswoman for Ms. McKenna said the project did not require a federal review but that the port authority of Belledune had responsibility to determine whether the project – which would be on federal lands – was likely to cause significant adverse environmental impacts.
As opposition to pipelines and crude by rail continues from environmentalists, First Nations and municipalities, Conservative MPs and senators have been hammering the Liberal government in Parliament over what they describe as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's failure to stand up for Alberta and its oil industry.
At a Senate hearing on Wednesday, Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr faced a barrage of criticism from Conservative members who want speedy approval of the Energy East pipeline, although the National Energy Board has yet to begin formal hearings on the project. Mr. Carr said the Liberal government believes that one of its "principle responsibilities" is to "move our natural resources to market sustainably." But he said the new government felt it had to strengthen the environmental review process to win public support for resource infrastructure.