A Northern Gateway partnership

Image courtesy of Enbridge.

Image courtesy of Enbridge.

It’s known as the Northern Gateway project. But, for more than a decade and counting, Enbridge has viewed this as the Northern Gateway partnership.

Northern Gateway is a proposed $6.5-billion energy infrastructure project that would link Canada’s oil sands with emerging Pacific Rim energy markets. At the same time, Northern Gateway represents the evolution of Enbridge’s community-centred partnership approach with the company’s aboriginal associates.

“All along, we’ve seen the aboriginal community as a fundamentally important partner in Northern Gateway,” says Michele Perret, Northern Gateway’s senior manager of community and municipal relations. “Northern Gateway is truly a nation-building exercise, but it would also be impossible to achieve without a strong relationship built on respect, trust, and sincerity.”

Throughout the project’s planning and consultation phases, Northern Gateway’s aboriginal partners have always rated long-term environmental considerations above the sizeable economic benefits that the project offers. “In other words, they’re not willing to sacrifice tomorrow for today where the environment is concerned,” says Perret. “We’ve listened. And we’ve responded with extra environmental and safety measures.”

Northern Gateway used detailed Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge (ATK) studies, directed by various aboriginal groups, to help determine the pipeline’s design and route. Aboriginal representatives have been invited along on strategic watercourse assessment and reconnaissance fieldwork, and their input and knowledge have helped in the selection of crossing locations. Northern Gateway is committed to world-class programs in the area of marine transportation safety and marine emergency preparedness and response, with coastal First Nations involvement in both.

To date, Northern Gateway has held more than 2,000 meetings and 43 open houses with aboriginal groups regarding the project, in addition to 400-plus community presentations, 36 open houses with the public, 16 rounds of community advisory board meetings, and a dozen “community technical meetings” that have provided specific information about pipeline integrity and safety. Northern Gateway has also offered up funding to allow aboriginal groups to participate fully in the engagement process.

Throughout this ongoing dialogue, Northern Gateway acted on community concerns, using public input to alter the proposed project route some two-dozen times in various locations. Northern Gateway also announced a $500-million package of enhancements — in the areas of monitoring and analysis, in-line inspection surveys, and pipeline wall thickness — to make a safe project even safer.

From the start, Northern Gateway’s right-of-way aboriginal communities have been recognized as project partners. An equity ownership offer for aboriginal pipeline right-of-way communities is worth an estimated $300 million. And that represents just a portion of Northern Gateway’s estimated $1-billion total aboriginal benefits package – which also includes $100 million in employment income, $300 million in business opportunities, and a $100-million community investment fund, a portion of which would be dedicated to aboriginal right-of-way communities.

Northern Gateway’s aboriginal skills development and employment training strategy — funded by the company’s $3-million aboriginal education and training fund — has an “employment-right-now” approach. Northern Gateway is working directly with 14 aboriginal communities, helping to develop skilled tradespeople in heavy equipment operation, pipefitting, ironworking, welding, and surveying. Northern Gateway is also communicating with local colleges in B.C. and Alberta to make sure they’re aware of impending labour needs in the energy pipeline and construction sectors, and looking for ways to link aboriginal graduates to work in those fields.

Northern Gateway represents a potential world-class energy infrastructure project, with state-of-the-art technology. But it can’t be done alone. Enbridge promised full inclusion for its aboriginal partners — and will continue to live up to that

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