Energy industry needs 'culture change' in relations with First Nations, says Calgary executive


A Calgary oil and gas executive is calling for a culture change in the way industry deals with First Nations, urging companies to recognize those who own land on top of resources must benefit from any extraction.

“Our industry has for too long told people they have no choice,” Michael Binnion, president and chief executive of Questerre Energy Corp., told a conference on breaking pipeline deadlocks.

“We say people need to realize they need hydrocarbons, and they have no choice. We consult on decisions we’ve already made, about resources we already have a government-issued permit for. But no one likes to be told they have no choice.”

Faced with delays and other setbacks in building new pipelines that would deliver Alberta crude to overseas markets, First Nations, industry and government officials met in a downtown Calgary hotel for two days about ending the impasse.

Participants left with some proposals, including calls for a meeting among First Nations chiefs with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, consultations with indigenous people at the beginning of projects and for sharing the benefits of production.

Binnion, whose junior company owns oil and gas assets in three provinces and one U.S. state, urged First Nations and industry to “get to know each other again, like our forefathers did.”

He said old approaches of telling indigenous people they have no choice on resource development has only served to sour relations.

“It’s no surprise to me that First Nations are feeling like they have all of the impacts but none of the benefits,” Binnion said. “And it should be no surprise to us when they tell us they actually do have a choice – they can say no.”

The conference occurred two weeks after 50 First Nations across North America signed a pact to block pipeline projects that would transport Alberta oil.

Speaking on behalf of the Idle No More movement, Alvin Manitopyes, of Saskatchewan’s Muskowekwan First Nation, told the Calgary gathering he is worried about water pollution and wants industry to move away from extracting oil and gas from the ground.

But Chris Bloomer, president and CEO of the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, said there is recognition among many First Nations of the need for pipelines to bring Alberta oil to new markets.

Without access to those markets, the province’s oil will continue to be sold at discounts, he said.

Bloomer said he believes industry can bring more First Nations onside with commitments to share economic benefits and maintain safe pipelines, though he noted there are gaps, including on consultations.

“We do need to improve our engagement processes,” he said, adding the change would likely emerge from Ottawa’s review of environmental assessments. “We do believe that we do need to have more robust indigenous partnerships.”

Bloomer said the Liberal government’s approval of the Pacific Northwest LNG project in B.C. suggests the gridlock on energy projects may be loosening, though he cautioned the decision doesn’t necessarily mean pipelines will get the green light.

The Liberals are expected to make a decision on Kinder Morgan’s bid to twin its Trans Mountain oilsands pipeline to the B.C. coast by the end of the year.

TransCanada Corp.’s Energy East line to the Atlantic Ocean is in the early stages of regulatory hearings, which were stalled by allegations of bias on the National Energy Board panel reviewing the proposal.

In giving conditional approval of the B.C. LNG project, Ottawa said indigenous people were meaningfully consulted, which Bloomer took as a signal the energy gridlock loosening.

Still, the project continues to face opposition by some local First Nations.

“I’m optimistic and I think there is, maybe, some loosening of the gridlock,” Bloomer said. 

Reid Southwick is a Calgary Herald Business Reporter

Story: Calgary Herald