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Hands off oil, Haida Nation

Posted by mhudema on July 16, 2008

Hands off oil, Haida Nation says
Natural environment trumps drilling in Queen Charlotte Basin, band warns
Scott Simpson
Vancouver Sun

A “new world oil order” may be emerging for oil, but one of the world’s indigenous oldest communities isn’t prepared to race into it.

Arnie Bellis, vice-president of the Council of the Haida Nation, said in an interview on Monday that the skyrocketing value of oil and gas resources off the British Columbia coast holds little interest for his people compared to the natural environment they have resolved to protect.

“We’re on record as being against the development of gas and oil in our territory — in any territory that would have an impact on our environment,” Bellis said in an interview from the Queen Charlotte Islands, known to the first nation as Haida Gwaii.

Queen Charlotte Basin is one of three potential offshore oil and gas regions in B.C. and it was cited recently by the International Energy Agency as worthy of further study in light of a doubling of oil prices in the past year.

The Paris-based agency is financed by developed nations, including Canada, with the objective of balancing global supply and demand for energy in all forms.

In a story by Canwest European correspondent Peter O’Neil which ran Monday in The Vancouver Sun, IEA chief economist Fatih Birol said it was important to look at the social and environmental implications of developing new oil supply.

But in light of emerging demand for oil from developing nations, an apparently finite limit to annual production, and the growing power of state-owned oil producers, Birol said Canada can play a greater role in reducing supply uncertainty.

That includes B.C.’s offshore oil resources, which have a total estimated value of about $250 billion at current oil prices, according to government studies.

“They shouldn’t be talking about things that we own, and that are in our backyard, in terms of recommendations. That’s almost insulting, you know,” Bellis said. “I’d like to caution people on not getting rushed into these things.”

The provincial government has been funding research into development of offshore reserves for six years.

The B.C. Energy Plan, released in February 2007, includes a call to the federal government to lift the offshore oil and gas drilling moratorium that has been in place since 1972.

A National Energy Board study in 2006 said development of B.C.’s offshore reserves would have “strategic value” in reducing Canada’s dependence on the Alberta oilsands and Eastern Canada’s offshore oilfields –although the B.C. resource is only equivalent to about 0.5 per cent of the oilsands.

Bellis wasn’t convinced that the situation is as urgent as the IEA has suggested, noting that energy conservation measures are far from ingrained in the behaviour of the oil-consuming public.

Nor does it appear that oil companies are about to go broke — some, such as Exxon, have announced record profits in recent years.

“The world oil crisis — what do you believe these days?” Bellis wondered. “What is the motivation for saying these things, about high gas prices and this and that? It’s an opportune time to say that.”

Meanwhile, he said “there have been solutions that have been largely ignored, or, in my mind, covered up.”

“The crisis, if there is one, has been generated and almost to a point manufactured because we are talking about a heckuva lot of money and motivation.

“The motivation is to make money for the shareholders or whatever.”

Bellis noted that the Haida and the provincial government recently signed a land use agreement that “puts a different philosophy on the land base” which does not make resource revenue the primary consideration.

“Maybe we need to do the same thing in all of our resources so that money is not the lead motivator.”

He added that he expects B.C. offshore resources to stay in the spotlight while oil prices remain high.

“I think this is a bit of a political opportunity to be saying these things, and we are going to have a lot of that in the world now.”

B.C. Minister of Energy Mines and Petroleum Resources Richard Neufeld was travelling and unavailable for comment.

ssimpson@png.canwest.com

© The Vancouver Sun 2008
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One Response to “Hands off oil, Haida Nation”

  1. Chris said

    Interesting article!
    Like to read more on that.

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