Offshore: Oil giants complain over offshore project - Companies claim Hectate Strait tenure rights infringed

Two oil companies have complained to the authorities over proposed offshore wind power project in Hecate Strait between British Columbia's mainland and the Queen Charlotte Islands. Shell and Chevron outlined their objections in a letter to the BC Environmental Assessment Office as part of public consultations into NaiKun Wind Energy's plans for a 396 MW project.

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The companies say the NaiKun project will "infringe on our pre-existing offshore oil and gas tenure rights in the area".

Construction and operation could negatively impact their ability to conduct seismic studies, they add, as well as hampering their ability to "conduct drilling or production operations" on prospective targets under the NaiKun site.

NaiKun vice president Matt Burns says his company is confident its project will be able to co-exist with other users of the resources in the strait. "That being said, it is difficult for us to do very much about it," he says. "We have a tenure for wind power from the provincial government and (indigenous people's administration) the Haida Nation, and Shell and Chevron have an oil and gas tenure. So it's really - to us - at the feet of the federal and provincial governments to resolve the issue. What we've said is we'll do whatever we can to help assist in that. At this point, that involves dialogue and ensuring we're available to discuss the issue."

Further complications

In their letter, Shell and Chevron said they have been unable to find any federal or provincial government procedure that could be used to address the potential conflict between their subsurface oil and gas rights and the seabed rights granted to NaiKun. "In addition, jurisdiction over the area is begin contested by the federal government and the provincial government, and by First Nations, which further complicates this."

The companies suggest a number of mitigation measures to protect their rights. They want to be allowed to collect high-quality seismic data before any construction by NaiKun in the Hecate Strait. They also request that the wind farm be redesigned to accommodate seismic vessels and to allow drilling and production operations to occur between the turbines. They have also asked that wind farm operations be shut down during future seismic surveys.

"We feel strongly there must be some discussion and agreement between the parties before NaiKun is allowed to move forward with their project," the oil firms say.

Burns says it is difficult for NaiKun to comment on the proposed measures "until we understand (exactly) what they have in mind". But when it comes to shooting seismic before wind farm construction begins, Burns points out that, for now at least, there is a moratorium on offshore oil and gas exploration and development in BC. Both the federal and provincial governments have had bans in place since 1972, but in its 2007 energy plan the BC government said it wanted to work with the federal government to lift them.

Haida Nation

The council of the Haida Nation, which asserts its rights over the area as part of its traditional territory, also has a moratorium on offshore oil and gas explortion and development in place. "The way we operate there are three levels of government and the Haida Nation is one of those," says Burns.

The Haida have a stake in seeing wind generators in the strait. Their business arm announced in August that it had signed a memorandum of understanding with NaiKun to acquire 40% equity in the project, which carries an estimated price tag of C$2 billion.

"Our people have always put our lands, waters and culture first," said Guujaaw, president of the Haida Nation. "We are putting this project through a rigorous environmental assessment, and it is looking good. The next logical step is to work out the business case for our people, who could see this project as the centrepiece for our economic strategy."

Local investment

Thomas Olsen, managing director of the Haida Enterprise Corporation, the Haida Nation's business arm, says the nation sees an investment in NaiKun as "redirecting the earnings that would have normally gone to outside investors and is keeping them here at home".

The Haida hope to tap into a new federal government funding initiative, the Framework for Aboriginal Economic Development, to help finance their share of the project.

Haida people comprise half the 5000 people living on the islands of the archipelago of Queen Charlotte Islands, also known as Haida Gwaii. The Haida Nation collectively holds hereditary and aboriginal title and rights to Haida territories. All people of Haida ancestry are citizens of the Haida Nation.

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