Artist’s rendition of LNG Canada’s proposed Kitimat liquefied natural gas plant. (Image supplied)

B.C. natural-gas pipeline challenger says he’s received threats

Smithers man wants a federal review of TransCanada’s Coastal GasLink pipeline project

The Smithers resident who wants a federal review of the natural gas pipeline that would feed the planned multi-billion LNG Canada liquefied natural gas facility at Kitimat says he’s received threats against his life and property.

“I can tell you it’s been relatively intense,” says Michael Sawyer of the attention focused on him since he asked the federal National Energy Board at the end of July for an order that TransCanada’s Coastal GasLink pipeline project be put under federal regulation.

The pipeline has already received a green light from the province’s environmental agencies, a key factor in the decision by LNG Canada’s Joint Venture Partners (JVPs) whether to give the go-ahead or not.

The JVPs, which now include the Malaysian energy giant Petronas, have indicated a decision will be made by the end of the year, something that’s placed residents, businesses and local governments in Kitimat and Terrace in a high state of anticipation.

But if Sawyer’s application to the NEB is successful and a review is in order, there’s a growing worry among LNG proponents in the region that an investment decision would be delayed.

And it’s that worry which has placed Sawyer in the spotlight, resulting in the threats.

“One said ‘Hope you have your fire insurance up to date’ and another was ‘Look out. We’re coming to get you,’” said Sawyer.

He’s contacted the Smithers RCMP who so far describe messages as “implicit” and not “explicit,” Sawyer added.

“There’s not enough for them to act on,” he said of the police response.

Sawyer said he understands the range of emotions arising from his NEB filing from people anticipating an economic boom from any LNG development, but said his filing is based on Canadian law and judicial precedence.

“We live in a society where there’s the rule of law,” said Sawyer, adding that when governments don’t follow the rule of law, “it’s incumbent upon citizens to hold their feet to the fire and have them obey the law.”

It’s a position Sawyer bases on two previous court decisions, a 1998 Supreme Court of Canada decision and a 2017 Federal Court of Appeal decision involving the now-shelved Pacific NorthWest LNG project near Prince Rupert.

While pipeline projects in B.C. don’t solely fall under provincial jurisdiction as defined by the constitutional provision giving provinces control of natural resources, both decisions determined that a tie-in with existing pipelines that are under federal jurisdiction would also place those new projects under federal jurisdiction.

The 2017 decision is particularly relevant for Sawyer because it stemmed from his own appeal of an NEB decision dismissing his assertion that the pipeline, which would also have been built by TransCanada, to feed the Pacific NorthWest LNG project was within federal and not provincial jurisdiction.

That decision was never appealed by the NEB nor TransCanada, meaning it stands as a precedent, Sawyer states.

In addition to Sawyer’s legal position, he refutes the premise that LNG is a clean fuel which can replace fuels such as coal until “some other mythical fuel is found.”

While LNG as a fuel may burn cleaner, once the cumulative energy-using impacts of drilling, fracking, processing, pumping through pipelines, super-cooling for shipping and shipping itself are considered, the emissions total is greater than burning coal, he says.

“The [cumulative] emissions are two per cent greater,” said Sawyer. “When you look at the claim then that it’s a cleaner fuel, it’s simply not true.”

It’s why a federal review of the project is needed in the broad public interest, he added in questioning the thoroughness of the provincial review.

Sawyer also said a federal review would put into play federal species protection legislation – he has his eye on a northeastern B.C. caribou herd resident in an area he said TransCanada has already indicated it would need to drill 700 wells a year, with accompanying infrastructure, over the next 30 years.

“That (caribou) herd would simply no longer exist,” said Sawyer.

Overall, Sawyer said the provincial approval of Coastal GasLink was driven by the former BC Liberal government’s bias to “approve the project and get it running.”

“Look, if there had been a fulsome [provincial] review, and they acknowledged all of the risks and decided to go ahead with it anyway, I may not have agreed with it but at least it would be intellectually honest,” he said.

A former environmental consultant in Alberta, first for oil and gas companies and then to citizen groups, landowners and First Nations over a career of more than 20 years, Sawyer said he moved to Smithers to more or less retire.

However, Sawyer said he saw deficiencies in how energy projects in B.C. are examined and decided to become more involved.

He says there’s no personal financial gain in what he’s doing and counters critics’ accusations he’s receiving money from American foundations.

He did receive $2,500 to help with legal costs from the West Coast Environmental Law Society’s environmental dispute resolution fund which is financed by interest earned by trust accounts maintained by lawyers in B.C.

Individuals have also made small donations.

And as for why the application to the NEB has only been filed now with an LNG Canada investment decision expected soon, Sawyer said it simply took this long to gather his information.

“There’s no intention to time my application. That’s how long it took to get this together,” he said.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Nicole Cherlet, NDP, Samson Boyer, Green, Doug Clovechok, BC Liberal.
B.C. VOTES: Columbia River Revelstoke candidates debate one last time

Candidates discuss issues like affordable housing, healthcare, pandemic recovery

Nicole Cherlet for the BC NDP, Samson Boyer for the BC Greens and Doug Clovechok for the BC Liberals will be your choices on the ballot in the upcoming provincial election. (Submitted/Revelstoke Review)
BC VOTES: Fact checking claims from Columbia River Revelstoke candidate forum

The Revelstoke Review hosted a candidate forum on Oct. 20

(File)
British Columbians want more parks, even if it means less mining and logging: survey

Scientists say 30 per cent of land and water in Canada should be protected

File photo
EDITORIAL: The power of a single vote

In the Oct. 24 British Columbia election, every vote is important

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry presents modelling of COVID-19 spread in B.C., March 25, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. sets another COVID-19 record with 203 new cases

up to 1,766 active cases in B.C., two more deaths

(Kamloops this Week)
Grandfather accused of using grandchild to make child porn residing in Salmon Arm area

66-year-old’s offences alleged to have taken place in Kamloops

Stacey Darren Alec pleaded guilty to three charges relating to child pornography at the Vernon law courts Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. (Caitlin Clow - Morning Star)
Guilty plea in child porn charges for Vernon man

The man in his 50s will appear for sentencing Nov. 9

Vernon-Monashee candidate Harwinder Sandhu signs have been tampered with repeatedly leading up to the Oct. 24 election. (Contributed)
More Okanagan election signs vandalized

Vernon-Monashee NDP candidate Hardwinder Sandhu hit hard with repairs

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Kristy Dyer Cartoon
Dyer: Wood pellets cause carbon emissions in more ways than one

Kristy Dyer has a background in art and physics and consulted for Silicon Valley

More and more electric cars are on the road, but one Chevy Bolt owner was shocked to see how much his BC Hydro bill skyrocketed once he started charging the vehicle. (Black Press file photo)
Lower Mainland man sees significant spike in BC Hydro bill after buying electrical vehicle

An increase should be expected, but Brian Chwiendacz experienced a 200-plus per cent hike

The Anonymous YVR is an Instagram page that reviews restaurants and other establishments around B.C. based on how well they adhere to COVID-19 rules. (Instagram)
Anonymous Instagram page reviews COVID-19 safety measures at B.C. businesses

There are a number of public health orders various types of establishments must follow to slow virus’s spread

Most Read