A First Nations’ led $17-billion oil pipeline from Alberta to the West Coast has put in motion a back-up plan to site its terminal across the border

A First Nations’ led $17-billion project to build an oil pipeline from Alberta to the West Coast has put in motion a back-up plan to site its terminal across the border in Alaska to get around an imminent oil tanker ban in British Columbia’s northern coast.

Vancouver-based Eagle Spirit Energy Holdings Ltd. has signed a memorandum of understanding with Roanan Corp., a private landowner in Hyder, an old gold-rush town on the Alaska side of the Canada/U.S. border at the head of the Portland Canal, to locate the pipeline’s endpoint.

That’s where tankers could load Canadian oil and sail through the disputed waters of Dixon Entrance, claimed by both Canada and the United States, if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s tanker ban becomes law, project chairman and president Calvin Helin said in an interview.

“It’s a complete answer to the tanker ban,” said Helin, a member of the Lax Kw’alaams band near Prince Rupert who believes Alaska would welcome the proposal because of its significant economic benefits.

The view from the Portland Canal headed north toward the border towns of Hyder, Alaska and Stewart, British Columbia. Jim Wilson/The New York Times files

Construction of the terminal alone would involve an investment of up to $1 billion. An additional $500 million would be spent on spill prevention preparedness, including tugboats, barges and training, Helin said.

It’s the project’s latest salvo against the controversial ban. Indigenous leaders behind Eagle Spirit say the ban is the result of a lobbying campaign by American-financed environmental NGOs and is being pushed through without their consultation and consent. If adopted, it would eliminate  immediate and future opportunities for development, they say.

Border between Stewart, British Columbia, Canada and Hyder, Alaska, USA. Postmedia Files

The Eagle Spirit project would transport as much as one million barrels a day of Alberta oil to Asia. More than 30 First Nations from Bruderheim, Alta., through Northern B.C., to Grassy Point, B.C. support the project and would be equity owners. In addition to an oil pipeline, Eagle Spirit involves a pre-approved energy corridor that could accommodate natural gas, power transmission and fibre optic lines.

Under its current plan, the pipeline’s endpoint and tanker terminal would be located in Grassy Point. If the ban, which is now before Parliament, is implemented, it would effectively prevent the establishment of an oil tanker port in Canadian territory on the Northern B.C. coast, Helin said. The project would then end in the corridor in Hyder, located about 25 kilometres up the coast in Alaska.

Transport Canada has said that it held 75 engagement sessions to discuss the proposed moratorium and that Transport Minister Marc Garneau engaged directly with all Indigenous groups that would be affected or expressed an interest in the moratorium.

Eagle Spirit proponents have also launched a fundraising campaign to pay for a legal challenge against the ban, and started an e-petition calling on Canada’s Parliament to “withdraw the proposed ban on crude oil tanker traffic off B.C.’s north coast and begin a new process whereby the interests of all affected, especially Indigenous and other communities in the region, are considered concurrently with a robust industry and national economic assessment, which recognizes the importance of ensuring Canada’s world-leading environmentally and socially responsible oil and gas industry can reach the growing demand of global markets.”

Roanan is a private company based in Vancouver that has owned property in Hyder for 40 years. With fewer than 100 residents, the border town is adjacent to Stewart, B.C., with a population of about 300.

Roanan’s president and CEO, Walter Moa, and Helin signed an agreement Jan. 11 to work together on the plan.

Moa said Hyder is an ideal site for a tanker terminal because it has a deepwater port.

There have been long-term efforts to develop it and the Eagle Spirit proposal would provide an ideal opportunity.

Roanan holds port, townsite and mineral claims in the area, he said.

“Alaska is in general very supportive of resource development,” Moa said in an emailed statement. “As with any new development, local, state and federal support is important.”

Helin said the plan is in the early stages and discussions with Alaska and others impacted by the plan have just started.

A spokesperson for Alaska governor Bill Walker was not immediately available for comment.

Tankers would sail through Dixon Entrance, located south of the Alaska Panhandle and the North Shore of Haida Gwaii. Territorial boundaries have been disputed since 1903.

Under the proposed Oil Tanker Moratorium Act, oil tankers are banned “at ports or marine installations located along British Columbia’s north coast from the northern tip of Vancouver Island to the Alaska border.”

The tanker ban is a major obstacle to the project. It was announced by Trudeau in November 2016, at the same time as the Liberal government halted Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway pipeline.

Eagle Spirit is backed by the Aquilini Group of Vancouver and has the support of major Canadian oil producers including Suncor Energy Inc., Cenovus Energy Inc. and Meg Energy Corp. It emerged about five years ago as an alternative to Northern Gateway, which was opposed by First Nations that felt environmental protection and benefits were insufficient. It’s modelled after the Alyeska pipeline between Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay and Valdez, built and operated with involvement from the state’s Indigenous people.

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