PRINCE GEORGE, B.C. — A British Columbia First Nation near the explosion of a natural gas transmission pipeline owned by Enbridge has filed a lawsuit against the energy company.
Chief Dominic Frederick of Lheidli T’enneh First Nation near Prince George said their B.C. Supreme Court civil lawsuit asks for a permanent injunction preventing Enbridge from operating the pipeline in their territory and reserves.
“The explosion has breached the Lheidli T’enneh’s trust and confidence in Enbridge to deliver safe and reliable energy through its reserve and traditional territory,” he said at a news conference on Wednesday.
Other pipelines running parallel, including an oil pipeline, could also have caught fire and exploded, he said.
None of the allegations has been proven in court and Enbridge has not yet filed a statement of defence.
On Oct. 9, an explosion and fire occurred in a pipeline that provides natural gas to about 1.5 million customers in B.C., Washington state and Oregon.
Frederick said the incident unleashed a massive fireball, the heat and ash from which was felt by members living near the site of the explosion. It also produced ground vibrations rattling windows in nearby homes and the band office over two kilometres away, he said.
“We are not opposed to industrial activity in the energy sector but we are opposed to unsafe transportation of hydrocarbons. We shouldn’t be a distant afterthought to Enbridge post-explosion. Our lives matter.”
The lawsuit also seeks a mandatory injunction requiring the company to immediately dismantle and remove the pipeline from the First Nation territory and reserves, and restore the lands to their natural state.
It asks for damages for nuisance, trespass and negligence, and a declaration that the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation “has never been consulted, or alternatively, adequately consulted, with respect to the construction, operation, repair or return to service of the pipeline.”
Enbridge said in a statement that it’s not in the public interest to stop operating a critical piece of energy infrastructure that millions of people in B.C. and the U.S. Pacific Northwest rely on every day.
The company has undertaken a rigorous inspection of their natural gas pipeline system in B.C. since the blast, it said.
Enbridge is committed to fostering a strengthened relationship with Indigenous communities, including the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation, which is built upon openness, respect and mutual trust, it said.
“We notified the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation of the pipeline incident within nine minutes and immediately began to provide the community with support,” it said in the statement, adding Enbridge CEO Al Monaco has been in contact with Frederick to negotiate a settlement and an agreement.
Enbridge spokeswoman Tracie Kenyon said the incident is still being investigated by the Transportation Safety Board.
However, Frederick said the investigation into the explosion needs to be trilateral and involve the First Nation.
“We are Section 35 rights holders, not mere bystanders or stakeholders. These rights are constitutionally protected,” he said, referring to the section of the constitution that recognizes Indigenous and treaty rights.
Enbridge worked hard following the explosion to ensure that no one in Vancouver went without heat but ignored the First Nation’s concerns about living close to the pipeline, he alleged.
“We are serving notice that we demand to be included in the investigation of the explosion in our backyard,” he said. “We are serving notice to Enbridge by launching this lawsuit that our human lives matter.”